U.S. President Joe Biden’s national security adviser says the White House “firmly” rejects suggestions that Canada’s allegation of potential India’s involvement in the murder of a Sikh leader is driving a wedge between the two allies.
The U.S. has not openly criticized India in the wake of the allegations, which have yet to be proven, as the Biden administration seeks deeper economic and diplomatic ties with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government.
But Jake Sullivan told reporters at the White House on Thursday that the issue has not impacted the U.S.-Canada relationship.
“I have seen in the press some efforts to try and drive a wedge between Canada and the U.S. on this issue, and I firmly reject the idea that there is a wedge between the U.S. and Canada,” he said.
“We have deep concerns about the allegations and would like to see the investigation carried forward and perpetrators held to account. That is what the United States has stood for from the moment this emerged in public, and we will stand for that until this plays out.”
The Washington Post reported earlier this week that Canada’s Five Eyes allies, including the U.S., rebuffed private entreaties to publicly condemn the murder and India’s alleged involvement before Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made the allegation public in the House of Commons on Monday.
Senior Canadian and American government officials, speaking to Global News on the condition of anonymity, pushed back strongly against the report.
Sullivan would not comment on whether U.S. intelligence supports what Trudeau called “credible intelligence” suggesting agents of India’s government may be behind the June murder outside Vancouver of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Canadian citizen and supporter of the Khalistan movement that is pushing for the creation of a separate Sikh state.
The U.S. has been in contact with the Canadian government and high-level officials in India on the issue and will remain so, he said.
Biden and Modi have been pursuing deeper ties between their two countries for months, with Biden hosting the Indian prime minister for a state visit in June where they announced several business partnerships. Their bond was on further display at the G20 summit in New Delhi earlier this month.
India is a key part of the U.S. Indo-Pacific strategy that seeks to develop stronger bonds in the region in order to counter China and its economic rise.
Asked whether U.S. concern over the incident could disrupt that process, Sullivan said the U.S. would stand up for its principles, regardless of what country is affected.
“It is a matter of concern for us. It is something we take seriously. It is something we will keep working on, and we will do that regardless of the country,” Sullivan told reporters.
“There’s not some special exemption you get for actions like this. 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.”
Canada’s own efforts to strengthen trade ties with India have been put on an indefinite hold due to the allegation.
Sullivan additionally said he had “nothing to announce” on whether Biden plans to travel to India in January to celebrate the country’s Republic Day holiday.
U.S. ambassador to India Eric Garcetti told journalists at an event in New Delhi on Wednesday that Modi had extended the invitation to Biden at the G20 summit, according to Indian media reports.
Those reports said Garcetti had called the Canadian allegation “troubling” and that they required a careful response by the U.S. during his address to the Ananta Centre, an India-based think-tank on strategic affairs.
“We hope traditional friends and partners will cooperate in getting to the bottom of it,” Indian news agency ANI quoted Garcetti as saying, according to Reuters.
Experts say the U.S. has to walk “a very delicate tightrope” between supporting Canada as an ally while also not driving away India, which is seen as a “critical” strategic partner.
India has called the allegation “absurd and motivated,” and has responded by expelling a Canadian diplomat and issuing a travel advisory for Canada, which it accuses of harbouring terrorists involved with the Sikh separatist movement.
On Thursday, India halted visa services in Canada.
— with files from Reuters
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