July 15, 2024

WASHINGTON (AP) — Secretary of State Antony Blinken met Thursday with India’s foreign minister amid a simmering row between New Delhi and Ottawa over allegations of Indian government involvement in the killing of a Sikh activist in Canada.

Blinken and Subrahmanyam Jaishankar met Thursday at the State Department as the U.S. tries to navigate the dispute between its northern neighbor and the South Asian country critical to its Indo-Pacific strategy to counter China’s rising influence in the region.

Neither man spoke to the controversy that has disrupted Canada-India relations in very brief comments to reporters. U.S. officials had said they expected the topic to be raised. “We have consistently engaged with the Indian government on this question and have urged them to cooperate,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said.

Earlier Thursday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he had been told Blinken would address the matter and encourage the Indian government to cooperate with an investigation into the killing.

“The Americans have been with us in speaking to the Indian government about how important it is that they be involved in following up on the credible allegations that agents of the Indian government killed a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil,” Trudeau said.

“This is something all democratic countries, all countries that respect the rule, need to take seriously and we are moving forward in a thoughtful, responsible way anchored in the rule of law with all partners, including in our approach with the government of India,” he told reporters in Montreal.

U.S. officials have acknowledged that the fallout from the allegations, which they take seriously, could have a profound impact on relations with India but have been careful not to cast blame in the June killing of Sikh activist Hardeep Singh Nijjar, who was slain in a Vancouver suburb.

Killed by masked gunmen, Nijjar was a leader in what remains of a once-strong movement to create an independent Sikh homeland, known as Khalistan, and India had designated him a terrorist.

India’s foreign ministry has dismissed the allegation as “absurd” and accused Canada of harboring “terrorists and extremists.” It also implied that Trudeau was trying to drum up domestic support among the Sikh diaspora.

In his comments, Trudeau said Canada did not want to rupture ties with India but takes the matter seriously.

“As we’ve presented with our Indo-Pacific strategy just last year, we’re very serious with about building closer ties with India,” he said. “At the same time … we need emphasize that India needs to work with Canada to ensure that we get the full facts on this matter.”

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Associated Press writer Rob Gillies in Toronto contributed to this report.

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