July 15, 2024

(Bloomberg) — US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his Indian counterpart discussed the murder in Canada of a Sikh separatist leader as tensions between two of Washington’s key allies — Ottawa and New Delhi — increase over the killing.

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Both Blinken and Indian Minister of External Affairs Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said Friday that they discussed the incident — which Canada has blamed on India — but offered no additional details.

“I did speak about it” with Blinken and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, India’s Minister of External Affairs Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said at an event hosted by the Hudson Institute in Washington.

Speaking separately, Blinken reiterated that the US had deep concerns about the issue and wanted to see accountability for the murder.

“We have been in close contact with Canada about that, and at the same time we have engaged with the Indian government and urge them to work with Canada” on the investigation, “and I had the opportunity to do so again in my meeting yesterday with Foreign Minister Jaishankar,” Blinken told reporters at a news conference alongside his Mexican counterpart.

Ties between Canada and India turned acrimonious after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said New Delhi orchestrated the killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Canadian citizen who pushed for an independent Sikh homeland in northern India.

The dispute has put President Joe Biden in an awkward position after spending years courting Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi as part of a broader Indo-Pacific strategy to curb China’s assertiveness. Washington also enjoys close ties with Canada, a Group of Seven member who is also part of the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance.

Trudeau said on Thursday that he expected Blinken to raise the matter of Nijjar’s murder with Jaishankar.

Read more: India Suspends Visas, Canada Pulls Diplomats Amid Tensions

Jaishankar also said on Friday that the recent decision to suspend visa services in Canada was due to diplomats being “publicly intimidated,” though he didn’t provide evidence. India has characterized a Sikh protest outside its High Commission in Ottawa earlier this year as an “attack,” while protesters have maintained they were peaceful.

“Today, our diplomats are unsafe going to the embassy and consulates in Canada,” Jaishankar said.

He pointed out that the issue of Sikh separatists in Canada has been a source of tension for decades and Trudeau’s allegations have reopened the dispute.

“The Canadian PM made some allegations. Our response was that allegations weren’t consistent with our policy,” Jaishankar said. “This has been the issue of friction with Canada for many years which became dormant for a few years.”

(Updates throughout.)

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