'I look forward to India becoming permanent member'

U.S. President Barack Obama on Monday came out in support of a permanent seat for India in a reformed U.N. Security Council and broadly endorsed India's concerns over terrorism emanating from “safe havens in Pakistan” in an effort to underline his administration's strong commitment to a strategic partnership that he says is one of the “defining relationships” of the 21st century.

In an action packed day, Mr. Obama held delegation-level talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and addressed a joint session of Parliament. The two leaders also addressed a press conference together and issued a 12-page joint statement that reflected the wide range of areas on which India and the U.S. interact with each other, from Afghanistan and outer space to the Indian Ocean, higher education and energy.

If his remarks in Mumbai about terrorism emanating from Pakistan had seemed guarded, Mr. Obama's comments on Monday — and the lines in the joint statement itself — were clear and forthright. “We will continue to insist to Pakistan's leaders that terrorist safe-havens within their borders are unacceptable, and that the terrorists behind the Mumbai attacks be brought to justice”, he said. The U.S. President also praised Dr. Singh for consistently speaking out, in public and private, on his personal commitment to reduce tensions with Islamabad.

Mr. Obama's announcement that “in the years ahead, I look forward to a reformed U.N. Security Council that includes India as a permanent member” drew a loud applause from MPs. At the same time, the U.S. President visualised an active Indian role in passing and enforcing sanctions resolutions during its forthcoming two-year stint as a non-permanent member. His remarks on Iran and Myanmar were met with silence.

Asked about Kashmir at the press meet, the U.S. President said Washington could not “impose” a solution but offered to play any role if India and Pakistan so desired. He felt that a solution could be long drawn out, and India's step-by-step approach to mending ties with Pakistan might indeed be viable.

Dr. Singh responded by stating that India “was not afraid of the word K” but pointed out that talks with Pakistan were difficult when the “terror machine is as active as before.” Once Pakistan moved away from its diplomacy of coercion, India would be happy to engage Pakistan and resolve all outstanding issues, he said.

Mr. Obama felt that India had “avoided” condemning human rights violations in Myanmar and, in a critique of India's long-held policy in this regard, maintained that being upfront on such issues did not mean interference in the affairs of other countries.

The contentious issue of outsourcing was dealt with by the two leaders in different ways. Dr. Singh said India was “not in the business of stealing jobs” from the U.S. and referred to the increased productivity of American firms as a result. Mr. Obama pointed out that this was a two-way relationship because if jobs had been lost in the U.S. owing to outsourcing, Indian orders and investments had helped to create jobs as well. “Stereotypes in both countries have outlived their usefulness,” he added, while calling on India to reduce barriers to foreign investment.

In the strategic sphere, Mr. Obama announced the lifting of controls on export of high technology items to India and supported its membership in multilateral export control regimes such as the Nuclear Suppliers' Group. He also announced an in-principle agreement on supply of super heavy lift military aircraft to India, and agreed with Dr. Singh on steps to expand cooperation in the space, defence, civil nuclear and hi-tech sectors such as biotechnology and nanotechnology.

The Prime Minister acknowledged U.S. cooperation in counter-terrorism after the Mumbai attacks and announced the starting of a dialogue for more cooperation on internal security issues. This fell far short of expectations of partnerships in coastal areas and mega city policing expressed by senior Indian officials.

Apart from speaking forcefully on human rights violations, Mr. Obama identified only East Asia as a region where he desired greater Indian involvement. On Iran, the joint statement said both leaders reaffirmed their commitment to diplomacy and discussed the need for India to meet its obligations towards the IAEA and the UNSC. The two sides announced specific initiatives in clean energy, health and agriculture, besides deciding to hold a higher education summit to step up cooperation in this area.

More In: National | News