By Humeyra Pamuk and David Brunnstrom
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Friday he had urged his Indian counterpart to work with Canada to investigate the killing of a Sikh separatist advocate that the Canadian prime minister has linked to Indian government agents.
India’s Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar confirmed earlier he had spoken to Blinken and the U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan about Canadian allegations of New Delhi’s possible involvement in the June killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar in Canada.
Blinken met with Jaishankar at the State Department on Thursday afternoon.
“We’re very concerned about the allegations that have been raised by Canada, by Prime Minister Trudeau,” Blinken told a news conference after a meeting with Mexican officials.
“We have been in close contact with Canada about that and at same time we have engaged with the Indian government and urged them to work with Canada on an investigation,” he said, adding that he repeated the call in his meeting with Jaishankar.
“Those responsible need to be held accountable and we hope that our friends in both Canada and India will work together to resolve this matter,” Blinken added.
A State Department spokesperson said that in the meeting Blinken had urged India to cooperate “fully” with the ongoing Canadian investigation.
Ties between Indian and Canada have become seriously strained after Trudeau told parliament this month that Canada suspected Indian government agents were linked to the murder.
The incident has put the United States in an awkward spot diplomatically, caught between its neighbor and close ally Canada and India, which Washington has been courting as a key partner in its effort to push back against expanding Chinese influence.
An official State Department readout of the meeting between Blinken and Jaishankar issued on Thursday made no mention of the Nijjar issue, but an unnamed U.S. official subsequently confirmed late on Thursday that it was raised in the meeting.
On Friday, a State Department spokesperson said that during their meeting, the two “discussed a full range of issues impacting the important, strategic, and consequential relationship between the United States and India” and that the key issues were noted in the official readout.
Speaking in Quebec on Thursday, Trudeau said he was certain that Blinken would broach the issue with Jaishankar.
Nijjar was a Canadian citizen but India had declared him a “terrorist.” He supported the cause of Khalistan, or an independent homeland for Sikhs to be carved out of India.
Jaishankar said on Tuesday New Delhi had told Canada it was open to looking into any “specific” or “relevant” information it provides on the killing.
Trudeau, who has yet to publicly share any evidence, said last week he shared the “credible allegations” with India “many weeks ago.”
Blinken and Sullivan said last week that Washington was “deeply concerned” about the allegations raised by Trudeau.
The U.S. ambassador to Canada told Canadian television that some information on the case had been gathered by the Five Eyes intelligence alliance, which groups the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Britain.
(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk and David Brunnstrom; Writing by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Caitlin Webber, Daniel Wallis and Don Durfee)