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"When people cross the line, they will be held accountable": Diplomat Richard Verma on US action against Gurpatwant Pannun

New Delhi: US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Verma has assured that the United States would take action against India-designated terrorist Gurpatwant Singh Pannun if he or his associates crossed the line.

In an interview to ANI on Tuesday, the US official said that there is a requirement to operate within the law.

"I'm not going to get into specific cases, but I just kind of go back to what I said about, you know, we have to operate within the law, and we do. And when people cross that line, they will be held accountable," the US Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources said.

On being asked about the difficulty of Indians to fathom as to why America doesn't crack down on Khalistani separatists, Verma said that the US government would not tolerate any kind of harassment specially that targeted against diplomats.

"When people say things and we each have different rules when it comes to free speech. We have to assess where the line crosses into conduct, but we won't tolerate any violence or any kind of harassment directed at officials, and we will crack down on it where the law allows us to do it, and we have done it, and we will continue to do it," Verma stated.

Verma who is a former ambassador to India, also underscored how the diplomatic security team has done a very thorough job in ensuring not only Indian diplomats, but all diplomats posted in the US are safe and secure.

"Look, we've, you know, for those who engage in violence or any attacks, they're held completely accountable and are...I will say our diplomatic security team has done a very thorough and important job in ensuring not only Indian diplomats, but all those diplomats posted in the United States are safe and secure," Verma said.

"And there's no higher priority for us, for the Secretary of State, and we will continue to do that," he added.

In March last year, alleged pro-Khalistan elements had illegally entered the Indian consulate premises in San Francisco and attempted to set it ablaze. Another attempt at arson on the consulate was made in July last year. Pro Khalistani elements were allegedly behind this attack as well.
Richard Verma, on being asked about the allegations against India over its involvement in the alleged attempt to kill Sikh separatist leader Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, said the concerns were raised with the Indian government at the most senior levels.

"Look, we raised the concerns with the Indian government at the most senior levels. They took it seriously. They've launched an investigation, and we look forward to continuing to hear back from the Indian authorities about what they've found, but it's a very important issue, and it's being addressed," the US Deputy Secretary of State told ANI.

Gurpatwant Singh Pannun is an India-designated terrorist who holds American and Canadian citizenship. As per the US Justice Department indictment, an Indian national, Nikhil Gupta, who is currently in custody has been charged with murder-for-hire of Pannun.

The US Justice Department had claimed that an Indian government employee, who was not identified in the indictment filed, had recruited the Indian national to hire a hitman to allegedly carry out assassination of Pannun, which was foiled by US authorities.

Richard Verma said the United States was now waiting to hear from the committee of inquiry set up by India to look into the matter.

"Well, as I understand, there is a committee of inquiry that's looking into this and investigating, and we would expect to hear...Here in India, we would expect to hear back as to what... has been discovered and who's been held accountable for the activities," Verma said.

"This is a serious issue. It is being addressed, will be addressed. So let that proceed," he added.

"But again, I'm here seeing all these incredible kinds of companies and innovators and progress in the relationship, which is also taking place at the same time. So we've got to be able to handle multiple sets of issues at the same time, some of which may be very difficult," he further stated.

In December last year, US Principal Deputy National Security Advisor Jon Finer acknowledged India's establishment of a Committee of Enquiry to investigate the plot to allegedly kill Pannun in the US. 

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