US denies it rebuffed Ottawa's demands but Canada was 'outgunned diplomatically' by India

White House: 'We encourage India to fully cooperate with Canada's probe'

modi-trudeau-afp Prime Minister Narendra Modi shakes hand with Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau ahead of the G20 Leaders' Summit in New Delhi | AFP

The US has urged India to cooperate in any investigation conducted by Canada into the murder of Khalistani terrorist Hardeep Singh Nijjar while brushing off reports that it rebuffed Canada's demand to publicly condemn India.

Stating that the White House was "deeply concerned" about Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's allegations that Indian agents were potentially involved in the murder of Nijjar, national security spokesman John Kirby said on Wednesday that India should cooperate in any investigation.  "We are deeply concerned. We encourage India to fully cooperate," he said.

Kirby said reports that the US rejected or brushed off Canada's allegations were untrue. "There's been some press speculation out there ... that the US rebuffed Canada in terms of talking about their investigation, and I just want to stress that those reports are just flatly false, untrue," Kirby said.

The Washington Post reported on Tuesday that weeks before Trudeau's accusation, Canada had asked its closest allies, including the US, to publicly condemn the Sikh separatist leader's killing, but the requests were turned down. 

However, despite Washington's clarification, regional analysts believe that Canada has been "severely outgunned diplomatically" in this regard since India is being wooed by Western countries as a counterweight to China. 

"India is important in Western calculations for balancing China, and Canada is not," said Stephanie Carvin, a professor of international relations at Ottawa's Carleton University told Reuters. "This really does put Canada offside among all other Western countries," she added. 

That its Western allies did not make the noise it desired about the incident though Ottawa had already been discussing the matter with the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance, attests to the fact. The UK has refused to publicly criticise India and said bilateral trade talks will continue as planned. A statement from Foreign Secretary James Cleverly too did not mention India by name. 

"Britain is in a difficult position, caught between supporting Canada and antagonising India, a country it wants as a trading partner and ally to help confront China," Chietigj Bajpaee, India expert at the Chatham House think tank in London. "Short of there being any definitive evidence of India's involvement, I think the UK response is likely to remain muted. A free trade deal would be a "major political win" for both India and Britain," Bajpaee told Reuters. 

"Our Five Eyes partners are understandably reluctant to wade into this, given everybody's interest in advancing ties with India, in the context of the ongoing tension with China," said Wesley Wark of the Centre for International Governance Innovation think tank in Waterloo, Ontario. 

Analysts think bringing solid evidence could make some changes, but Canada's options now are limited.

With the current trade volume with India and the number of Indian students heading to Canada, a long-running spat could potentially impact Canada. Jeff Nankivell, president of the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada, told Toronto-based Global News that discord could affect a lot of different economic interests in Canada, both in the higher education institutions and also the local economies where those institutions are located.

"Canada could also impose sanctions targeting sectors or individuals," said John Boscariol, head of the international trade and investment law group at McCarthy Tetrault LLP. "Canada should be very careful in how they do this, to be sure that they’re not shooting their own businesses in the foot," he said.

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