“We treat this issue with the utmost seriousness, and it has been raised by the U.S. government with the Indian government, including at the highest levels,” National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson said Wednesday in a statement.
“The Indian counterparts expressed surprise and concern,” Watson said. “They have stated that activity of this nature is not part of their policy.” She added that the Indian government is “further investigating this matter” and will likely have more to say on the matter in the coming days. “We have expressed our expectation that anyone found responsible will be held accountable,” she said.
This thorny geopolitical conversation follows similar and disturbing allegations that threaten to upend relations between Canada and India. In September, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau publicly accused “agents of the Indian government” of being involved in the assassination of a Sikh separatist, a Canadian citizen, in British Columbia.
India’s foreign ministry called the allegations “unfounded.” Ottawa and Delhi carried out diplomatic expulsions tit for tat. Canada’s investigation into this murder continues.
Washington’s warning to Delhi about the plot against Pannun was first reported by the Financial Times Wednesday. A Foreign Ministry spokesperson issued an indirect response, acknowledging that Washington had “shared some input” regarding what he called the “nexus between organized criminals, arms traffickers, terrorists and others.” . Spokesperson Shri Arindam Bagchi said “India takes these contributions seriously” and “necessary follow-up action” is being taken.
In June, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a high-profile state visit to Washington, where Indian tricolors adorned Pennsylvania Avenue. The Biden administration has been courting Delhi to deepen its relationship with a key partner to protect itself from China. Biden privately raised concerns with Modi about human rights issues, but not specifically about India’s alleged targeting of Sikh separatists in North America, according to people familiar with the matter. The US government’s discovery of the plot against Pannun and its concerns in Delhi came after Modi’s state visit, according to sources familiar with the matter.
Days before the visit, India’s Defense Ministry approved the United States’ purchase of 31 MQ-9B SeaGuardian armed drones. The sale of the aircraft produced by General Atomics, a highly versatile unmanned maritime patrol and reconnaissance vehicle, is worth approximately $3 billion.
The State Department has not formally informed Capitol Hill of the impending sale, but last week it informally informed congressional committees of its intention to move forward, sources familiar with the matter said. case. The sale is subject to a 30-day review process. Some lawmakers are expected to seek to delay the sale over human rights and other concerns, ahead of allegations of targeting Sikh separatists.
Asked whether the new allegations about the Indian government could hamper the sale, a State Department spokesperson said the department “does not confirm or comment on proposed defense transfers or sales until they have not been officially notified to Congress.”
Gerry Shih in New Delhi contributed to this report.