June 23, 2024

(Bloomberg) — Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged India to cooperate with Canada’s investigation into the killing of a Sikh leader that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau alleged may have been carried out by India’s government, amid a worsening diplomatic spat between two key US partners.

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Blinken said it was imperative the probe into the slaying of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, who was shot dead in a Vancouver suburb in June, be allowed to proceed unimpeded.

“We’ve been consulting throughout, very closely, with our Canadian colleagues — not just consulting, coordinating,” Blinken said at a briefing in New York.

“We are extremely vigilant about any instances of alleged transnational repression — it’s something we take very, very seriously,” he said.

Trudeau announced Monday that Canada had “credible allegations” Indian agents are linked to Nijjar’s killing. India has dismissed the allegations as “absurd” and accused Canada of harboring Sikh extremists and terrorists who want to carve out a separate Sikh state.

Canada expelled an Indian diplomat alleged to be an spy for India’s external intelligence service. India has also expelled a Canadian diplomat, followed up by suspending visa services for Canadians looking to travel to India. New Delhi has decried threats against Indian diplomats there and the “deteriorating security environment in Canada.”

Trudeau reiterated a call on Friday for India to participate in the investigation.

“Canada has shared the credible allegations that I talked about on Monday with India,” he said at a news conference alongside Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who was visiting Ottawa. “We did that many weeks ago. We are there to work constructively with India and we hope that they engage with us so that we can get to the bottom of this very serious matter.”

The diplomatic fight has put President Joe Biden in an awkward position. He has courted Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in recent years as part of a broader Indo-Pacific strategy aimed at competing with China. But Washington also enjoys close trade and political ties with its northern neighbor — a Group of Seven member and part of the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance alongside Australia, the UK and New Zealand.

On Friday, Blinken declined to detail US discussions with Canada or Washington’s engagement with India on the issue. He also refused to say whether the US had shared intelligence with Canada, following a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation report that said a Five Eyes member had provided intelligence on the case that detailed communications among Indian diplomats in Canada.

The response from Washington — and other Canadian allies — has been relatively muted at a time when India’s geopolitical clout has been rising, though National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson has downplayed suggestions that the US has not supported Canada, saying the administration was already “engaging the Indian government.”

–With assistance from Laura Dhillon Kane.

(Updates throughout.)

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