By Kanishka Singh and Costas Pitas
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States and Britain urged New Delhi on Friday not to insist that Canada reduce its diplomatic presence in India, expressing concern after Ottawa killed 41 diplomats in a dispute over the killing of a Sikh separatist had deducted.
Canada alleges India was involved in the June killing of Canadian citizen and Sikh separatist leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar in a Vancouver suburb, whom India described as a “terrorist.” India denies the allegation.
“We are concerned about the withdrawal of Canadian diplomats from India in response to the Indian government’s call for Canada to significantly reduce its diplomatic presence in India,” said Matthew Miller, US State Department spokesman.
Washington has said it is taking Canada’s allegations seriously and is joining London in urging India to cooperate with Canada in the murder investigation, even as Western powers shy away from openly condemning India.
Analysts say the US and UK do not want to damage ties with India, which they see as a counterweight to their main Asian rival China.
But Friday’s statements from the US State Department and the British Foreign Office were the most direct criticism of New Delhi from Washington and London to date in this case.
“We disagree with the Indian government’s decisions that have resulted in a number of Canadian diplomats leaving India,” a British Foreign Office spokesman said.
Canada withdrew 41 diplomats from India after New Delhi last month asked Ottawa to reduce its diplomatic presence following Canada’s allegations over Nijjar’s killing. Canada said on Friday it was temporarily suspending in-person operations at consulates in several Indian cities and warned of delays in visa processing.
“Resolving differences requires diplomats on the ground. “We have called on the Indian government not to insist on a reduction in Canada’s diplomatic presence and to cooperate with the ongoing Canadian investigation,” the US State Department said, adding that it “expects India to comply.” Obligations under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations 1961.
The British Foreign Office also invoked the Vienna Convention. It says: “The unilateral abolition of the privileges and immunities ensuring the safety of diplomats is not consistent with the principles or effective functioning of the Vienna Convention.”
(Reporting by Kanishka Singh and Costas Pitas; Additional reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa and Baranjot Kaur in Bengaluru; Editing by Josie Kao, Leslie Adler and Lincoln Feast.)