AMID the deepening diplomatic stand-off between India and Canada, US Ambassador to Canada David Cohen has said that it was “shared intelligence among Five Eyes partners” that helped “lead” Canada make the claim of a potential link between “agents” of the Indian government and the killing of pro-Khalistan separatist leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar.
“Five Eyes” refers to an intelligence-sharing alliance of the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. It draws on both surveillance and signals intelligence.
In an interview to Canadian CTV news, Cohen said: “There was shared intelligence among Five Eyes partners that helped lead Canada to making the statements that the Prime Minister made.” The interview is scheduled to be aired Sunday but the channel released the US envoy’s statements on Saturday.
Cohen’s comments came as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Friday the US is “deeply concerned” about the allegations raised by the Canadian Prime Minister against India and Washington was “closely coordinating” with Ottawa on the issue and wants to see “accountability” in the case.
External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar is in New York and he is likely to have meetings with several Foreign Ministers including his counterpart from the US where the issue is expected to figure. He is also headed to Washington DC, after the UNGA address on September 26, where he is likely to meet officials and ministers from the US administration.
On Monday, September 18, Trudeau told the Canadian Parliament: “Over the past number of weeks Canadian security agencies have been actively pursuing credible allegations of a potential link between agents of the Government of India and the killing of a Canadian citizen, Hardeep Singh Nijjar.”
Cohen would not comment on whether the intelligence informing the Canadian government’s investigation was both human and surveillance-based, or whether it included signals intelligence of Indian diplomats.
He also said that there was “a lot of communication” between Ottawa and Washington, DC.
He made this comment denying a report in The Washington Post that weeks before Trudeau’s bombshell declaration, Ottawa had asked its closest allies, including the US, to publicly condemn the murder and that overture was rebuffed.
“Very bluntly, I will say that — and you know me well enough — that I’m not in the habit of commenting on private diplomatic conversations,” Cohen said.
“Look, I will say this was a matter of shared intelligence information,” he added. “There was a lot of communication between Canada and the United States about this, and I think that’s as far as I’m comfortable going.”
Cohen said that the US “takes very seriously these allegations.”
“And, you know, if they prove to be true, it is a potentially very serious breach of the rules-based international order in which we like to function,” he said. “We think it’s very important to get to the bottom of it,” Cohen said.
Meanwhile, in Ottawa, Trudeau said that Canada has shared with India evidence of “credible allegations” about the involvement of Indian agents in the killing of Nijjar and wants New Delhi to “commit constructively” with Ottawa to establish the facts on this serious matter.
“I just want to simply say that we’ve shared those allegations, those credible allegations with India for weeks. We are working with our partners,” Trudeau said Friday in a press conference with the visiting Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
“…What we are asking is for India, to commit constructively with Canada to establish the facts on this situation. We’re there to work with them. And we have been for weeks now,” Trudeau said in response to a question.
“Canada has shared the credible allegations that I talked about on Monday with India. We did that many weeks ago…We hope that they engage with us so that we can get to the bottom of this very serious matter. That’s important,” he said.
India has rejected the allegations, calling these “absurd” and “motivated”. It has accused Ottawa of not acting against the Khalistan separatists in Canada, and not sharing any specific information on the killing of Nijjar.
At the same time, it has opened a window for cooperation, saying if any specific information is provided, New Delhi will be willing to look into it.
Speaking at a press conference in New York on Friday, Blinken said the US has engaged directly with the Indian government on the issue and the most productive thing would be the completion of this investigation.
“We have been consulting throughout very closely with our Canadian colleagues – and not just consulting, coordinating with them – on this issue. And from our perspective, it is critical that the Canadian investigation proceed, and it would be important that India work with the Canadians on this investigation. We want to see accountability, and it’s important that the investigation run its course and lead to that result,” Blinken said.
US NSA Jake Sullivan had said Thursday said it supports Canada’s efforts to investigate allegations of India’s involvement in the killing of Nijjar, observing that no country can get any “special exemption” for such kind of activities. “There’s not some special exemption you get for actions like this,” Sullivan told reporters when asked about Trudeau’s statement about possible Indian involvement. “It is a matter of concern for us, it is something we take seriously.”
Besides the US, Australia and the UK — the five-eyes alliance partners have made statements. There has been no statement from New Zealand so far.
Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong, who is also in New York for the UNGA meetings, had said earlier this week, “Look, these are concerning reports, and I note that investigations are still underway, but obviously these are concerning reports, and as I’ve said, we are monitoring these developments closely with our partners, and we’ll continue to do so.”
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When asked if Australia has raised these issues with India, she had said, “We have, Australia has raised these issues with our Indian counterparts, as you would expect us to do.”
British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said Tuesday that his government backs a Canadian investigation to determine whether India was involved in the killing of a Khalistani separatist.
“Obviously, we have a very strong relationship with Canada, a very strong relationship with India,” he continued, adding he expected “full cooperation” by India in the probe.
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