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Obama Woos India, But Treads Delicately On India-Pakistan Relations

  • RFE/RL

U.S. President Barack Obama (left) shakes hands with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at a joint news conference in New Delhi today.

U.S. President Barack Obama (left) shakes hands with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at a joint news conference in New Delhi today.

U.S. President Barack Obama, who is on a state visit to India, has said he is backing India's long-standing demand for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council.

He made the announcement in a speech to an applauding Indian Parliament in New Delhi. He said permanent Indian membership of the council was needed if that body -- currently comprised of five veto-wielding members -- is to be just and effective.

"The just and sustainable international order that America seeks includes a United Nations that is efficient, effective, credible, and legitimate," Obama said. "And that is why I can say today [that] in the years ahead, I look forward to a reformed United Nations Security Council that includes India as a permanent member."

Earlier today, at a news conference with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Obama said the relationship between the United States and India would be "one of the defining partnerships of the 21st century."

"Ours is no ordinary relationship," Obama said. "As the world's two largest democracies, as large and growing free market economies, as diverse, multiethnic societies with strong traditions of pluralism and tolerance, we have not only an opportunity but also a responsibility to lead."

Obama has been full in his praise of India during his visit. He has described the Asian giant as an established world power, elevating it from its usual status as an emerging economy.

During his earlier stop in the Indian commercial capital, Mumbai, the U.S. leader signed trade deals worth some $10 billion.

Mindful, perhaps, of his severe setback in last week's midterm Congressional elections at home, Obama said those deals would support thousands of jobs in the United States.

"When they ask me: 'Well, why are you spending time with India. Aren't they taking our jobs?' I want to be able to say: 'Actually, you know what? They just created 50,000 jobs.' And that is why we shouldn't be resorting to protectionist measures," Obama said. "We shouldn't be thinking that it is just a one-way street. I want both the citizens in the United States and citizens in India to understand the benefits of commercial ties between the two countries."

Mild Rebuke

On the political front, Obama told parliament today that he would continue to press neighboring Pakistan to rid itself of militants on its soil.

"We will continue to insist to Pakistan's leaders that terrorists' safe havens within their borders are unacceptable and that terrorists behind the Mumbai attacks must be brought to justice," Obama said.

This is the strongest reference the U.S. leader has made to Pakistan during his visit to India. Earlier in the trip, Indian media commentators were critical of Obama's failure to mention Pakistan when he visited the site of the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks that left 166 people dead.

At the press conference with Singh earlier today, Obama said the United States could not impose solutions in relations between India and Pakistan, whether it be in the Kashmir dispute or other problems, but would try to help in any role that the parties think is "appropriate" in reducing tensions.

James Lamont, South Asia bureau chief for the "Financial Times," says Obama "has been very careful about what he said publicly here because he realizes that you can quite easily satisfy nobody and get yourself into quite hot water on a visit."

But Lamont says he's sure that behind closed doors, Obama has been raising the issues of "India's concerns about terror in the region and its vulnerability to attacks by Pakistani militants, and equally, talking about how Indian and Pakistan might improve their dialogue."

India's Singh felt himself under no similar restraints as the U.S. leader. He referred to the impossibility of talking to Pakistan "at the same time the terror machine is as active as ever before."

He said that once Pakistan moved away from terror, India would be "very happy" to engage productively with Pakistan to resolve all issues.

Obama on November 9 continues to Indonesia, South Korea, and Japan, the next stops on his 10-day Asia tour.

with material from RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal and agency reports