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US Senators Pressing for 'Strong' Response Against India in Pannun Case

© AP Photo / Ted ShaffreySikh separatist leader Gurpatwant Singh Pannun is in his office in New York City on Wednesday, November 29, 2023.
Sikh separatist leader Gurpatwant Singh Pannun is in his office in New York City on Wednesday, November 29, 2023. - Sputnik India, 1920, 18.06.2024
The call for amping up pressure on India by Democratic Party Senators comes against the backdrop of National Security Advisor (NSA) Jake Sullivan's ongoing two-day visit to India.
Senior US Senators from the Democratic Party – Jeff Merkley, Chris Van Hollen, Bernie Sanders, and Ron Wyden – on Monday wrote to the Secretary of State Antony Blinken calling for a "strong diplomatic response" against India over its purported involvement in a foiled assassination plot against US-Canadian dual citizen Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, a designated terrorist in India.

"It is imperative that we take an unequivocal stand against such a threat to the rights of a U.S. citizen and violation of U.S. sovereignty, which are examples of India’s increasingly irresponsible efforts to silence critics of its government among its diaspora around the world," the letter from American senators claims.

Merkley is a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and one of the co-authors of the Transnational Repression Policy Act.
Last December, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing on what it described as an "alarming rise in transnational repression" in the wake of US Department of Justice (DOJ) unsealing an indictment naming 52-year-old Indian citizen Nikhil Gupta in "murder-for-hire" charges against Pannun.
India, in turn, has announced a high-level probe to look into the charges.
The letter by Merkley also states that the US should "match words with actions" to hold Indian officials allegedly involved in the Pannun plot, further calling on the Biden administration to "send a clear message that there will be consequences for such behavior".
Moreover, the American senators sought a briefing on the current status of the Pannun case, also demanding to know what "follow-up actions" would the Biden administration take against India.

"India must maintain its commitment to respecting human rights at home and abroad as it aspires to global leadership. Now that India’s 2024 general election has concluded, with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Prime Minister [Narendra] Modi returning to power, the United States has an opportunity to include this issue as a core agenda item with the Indian government," the letter reads.

Meanwhile, Gupta was produced in a federal court in Manhattan, where he pleaded "not guilty" to the murder-for-hire charges, on Monday.
The Indian citizen was arrested in Czech Republic last June at the request of the US government. He was extradited to the US last week, according to reports. According to Federal Bureau of Prison records, Gupta has been lodged at a detention facility in Brooklyn.

Sullivan's Visit to India

Meantime, US National Security Advisor (NSA)Jake Sullivan and his Indian counterpart Ajit Doval co-chaired the second meeting on the countries' initiative on Critical and Emerging Technology (iCET) in New Delhi, a White House statement said.
Launched in January 2023, the iCET covers expanding cooperation in emerging and critical sectors such as space, semiconductors, advanced telecommunications, artificial intelligence, quantum, biotechnology, and clean energy.
Discussions between the two NSAs also encompassed defence cooperation, including on acquisition of MQ-9B Reaper drones by IAF as well as "possible co-production" of land warfare systems in India, the White House said.
Sullivan also met External Affairs Minister (EAM) S. Jaishankar and later called on Prime Minister Modi, according to Indian statements.
The Pannun issue will continue to be discussed at "very senior levels" with India, US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said in the lead-up to June’s G7 Summit in Italy. Along with that, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Joe Biden exchanged greetings on the sidelines of the meeting's Outreach Session. However, it is not known whether there were negotiations on the matter.
Meanwhile, John Kirby, National Security Council (NSC) Coordinator for Strategic Communications, wouldn't say if the Pannun issue was discussed during Sullivan's engagements in New Delhi on Monday.
External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar with US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan - Sputnik India, 1920, 17.06.2024
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