Image: Indian Ambassador Meera Shankar
Mick Bullock  /  AP
Indian Ambassador Meera Shankar, 60, is shown Friday before a meeting in Jackson, Miss. Shankar was patted down Saturday by a female Transportation Security Administration agent before boarding a flight at the Jackson-Evers International Airport, witnesses said.
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 12/10/2010 11:09:59 PM ET 2010-12-11T04:09:59

The U.S. State Department says it regrets the pat-down of India's ambassador Meera Shankar last week at a Mississippi airport, according to a report in an Indian newspaper.

The security check spurred by the ambassador wearing a sari has created an uproar, with India objecting to what U.S. officials say was a by-the-book procedure that does not exempt diplomats.

The New Delhi-based Economic Times on Saturday quoted Indian embassy spokesperson Virendar Paul saying, "The U.S. Department of State has reached out to the ambassador and has regretted what all happened. The Embassy is in touch with the State Department on this issue."

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On Thursday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the incident is being examined.

"We obviously are concerned about it," Clinton said. "We will be looking into it and trying to determine both what happened and what we could do to prevent such incidents in the future."

A female Transportation Security Administration agent patted down Shankar when she was pulled out of line at the Jackson, Miss., airport. She was singled out for additional screening because of her apparel, officials said.

State officials, who had invited Shankar to Mississippi State University to give a speech and participate in a conference, said afterward they were embarrassed over Shankar's treatment.

Indian Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna said it was the second time the ambassador had been singled out for a pat-down in the past three months.

"This is unacceptable to India and we are going to take it up with the U.S. government and I hope things could be resolved so that such unpleasant incidents do not recur," Krishna told journalists, according to the Hindu newspaper.

The U.S. State Department said diplomats are subject to the same basic screening as other passengers at U.S. airports.

Following attempted attacks, including last year's attempt to blow up a flight to Detroit by a passenger with a bomb hidden in his clothes, U.S. authorities have deployed hundreds of full-body scanners and two months ago began doing more physical pat-downs that many travelers find invasive.

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Asked about the incident involving Shankar, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said she had looked into the matter and concluded that "it was by the book."

"It was a pat-down that followed our procedures, and I think it was appropriate under the circumstances," Napolitano said.

Protocols in which U.S. authorities are notified before passengers with special credentials get to airports can expedite their security checks, she said.

"In this particular instance, that protocol had not been utilized," Napolitano said. "I think what was done by the ... officer was done appropriately and by the book."

Reuters contributed to this report.

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