US says India will ‘not get special exemption’ on row over Sikh killing in Canada

The US would stand up for its principles and not give India any special exemption on the “serious” allegations of involvement in the murder of a Sikh separatist leader in Canada, Joe Biden’s advisor said in rare remarks.

US national security adviser Jake Sullivan said in a regular press briefing on Thursday that the US is “constantly” in contact with Canadian counterparts to support their investigation and also with the Indian government at high levels.

In allegations that are likely to worsen already faltering bilateral ties between India and Canada, prime minister Justin Trudeau insisted that Canada has "credible reasons" to believe that Indian government agents were involved in the killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar – a Canadian citizen and a wanted terrorist in India.

The evolving diplomatic row between Canada and India is believed to have put Washington in a tight spot which is seeking closer ties with India to counter China and remains Canada’s ally with a Nato and Five Eyes alliance member.

Mr Sullivan was asked if allegations from the Canadians on India can drive a wedge between the US and India ties amid efforts to rebuild economic and diplomatic relationships.

“I’m not going to get into private diplomatic conversations that have either already happened or are going to happen on this topic, only to say that we have been and will be in contact with the Indians at high levels on this issue,” he said.

He added the allegations are a matter of concern and something that the US takes very seriously.

“It’s something we will keep working on, and we will do that regardless of the country.  There is not some special exemption you get for actions like this,” he said.

White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan talks to reporters during a news conference in the Brady Press Briefing Room (Getty Images)
White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan talks to reporters during a news conference in the Brady Press Briefing Room (Getty Images)

“Regardless of the country, we will stand up and defend our basic principles.  And we will also consult closely with allies like Canada as they pursue their law enforcement and diplomatic process.”

Mr Sullivan said they are consulting with Canadian counterparts closely and “support the efforts that they are undertaking in this investigation”.

Rebuffing the press reports that the allegations caused a rift between Canada and the US, he said: “I firmly reject the idea that there is a wedge between the US and Canada”.

He declined to say if the US has any intelligence or investigative evidence to support Canada’s claims.

Weighing in on Mr Sullivan’s comments, Michael Kugelman, director of the South Asia Institute at the Washington DC-based Wilson Centre said it is rare for the US to make such remarks.

“He was essentially saying India shouldn’t get a free pass-something you rarely hear from US officials speaking publicly,” Mr Kugelman said.

President Biden, who was in India earlier this month to attend the G20 summit, has raised his concerns with Indian prime minister Narendra Modi on the sidelines of the gathering, the Financial Times reported.

Mr Biden and other members of the Five Eyes directly raised the issue with Mr Modi during the summit after Mr Trudeau briefed allies about the allegations of Nijjar’s killing and urged their support, it said citing three people.

The White House is yet to react to the report.

Even as Canada is yet to provide proof for the allegations, India has denied the allegations. In a retaliatory move, New Delhi indefinitely suspended visa services in all categories for all Canadian nationals due to “security threats” to its consulates. Each country in a tit-for-tak move expelled one senior diplomat.

In a press conference from New York, Mr Trudeau called upon the Indian government “to take seriously this matter and to work with us to shed full transparency and ensure accountability and justice in this matter”.