The US takes very seriously the allegations against an Indian government official who is accused of directing an unsuccessful plot to assassinate a Sikh separatist on US soil, White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said.
On Thursday, Kirby maintained, however, that New Delhi remains a "strategic partner" for the US and said Washington would "continue to work to improve and strengthen that strategic partnership with India."
"These allegations, and this investigation, take it very seriously. And we're glad to see that the Indians are, too, by announcing their own efforts to investigate this. And we've been clear that we want to see anybody that's responsible for these alleged crimes to be held properly accountable," he added.
The Justice Department announced charges on Wednesday against Nikhil Gupta, 52, alleging he was involved in a foiled plot to murder an unnamed Sikh attorney and political activist at the direction of an Indian government agent, who is also not named.
Gupta is an Indian national who was recruited by New Delhi's agent "to orchestrate the assassination of the victim in the United States," according to the agency.
The intended victim is Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, a vocal Sikh critic of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government and advocates for the secession of the northwestern Indian state of Punjab. The state is home to a large Sikh community.
The victim and his organisation have been banned in India, according to the US.
$100,000 to murder the victim
Court documents allege that Gupta sought to contract the killing out to a person he thought was a criminal associate, but who was working as a confidential informant with US federal agents.
The individual then put Gupta in contact with someone who he purported to be a hitman but was instead an undercover officer.
Gupta offered to pay the officer $100,000 to murder the victim, supplying him with the victim's personal information, including his home address and day-to-day routine, the indictment alleges.
Gupta is alleged to have then ordered the agent to kill the victim as soon as possible but to refrain from carrying out the assassination around times of high-level meetings between US and Indian officials.
Gupta has been charged with one count each of murder-for-hire, and conspiracy to commit murder-for-hire.
He faces a maximum of 10 years in prison per charge if convicted.
Shaky ties with Canada
The plot comes after Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced in September that Ottawa had credible evidence that the Indian government had links to the assassination in that country of Sikh activist Hardeep Singh Nijjar.
India rejected the accusation as absurd, but Canada expelled a top Indian diplomat while it investigated.
Later, New Delhi told Canada to remove 41 of their diplomats from the country, threatening to revoke their diplomatic immunity.
Like Pannun, Nijjar also advocated for a Sikh independent state, Khalistan, and was wanted by the Indian authorities for alleged terrorism.