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Updated: April 13, 2010 03:57 IST

Obama walks tightrope with Manmohan, Gilani

    Siddharth Varadarajan
    Narayan Lakshman
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President Barack Obama leaves the Blair House and walks across Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House after a series of meetings in Washington on Sunday.
AP
President Barack Obama leaves the Blair House and walks across Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House after a series of meetings in Washington on Sunday.

Appreciates India's interest in Afghanistan; tells Pakistan that extremists do not distinguish between victims

India and the United States made a fresh push on Sunday to dispel the clouds of uncertainty hovering over their relationship in the wake of America's increasing dependence on Pakistan as a partner in its war against extremism in Afghanistan.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Barack Obama, accompanied by their top advisers, met here for 50 minutes on the eve of the Nuclear Security Summit. A few hours later, the U.S. President sat down with Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani of Pakistan.

The U.S. President reassured Dr. Singh that he “welcomed the humanitarian and development assistance that India continues to provide to Afghanistan,” the White House said in a statement. Providing an Indian account of the discussions, Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao said President Obama told the Prime Minister the U.S. “fully appreciated India's interest in Afghanistan and recognised the enormous sacrifices that India has made in helping to stabilise that country.”

Mr. Obama also sought to put to rest speculation on America's reluctance to allow Indian investigators access to David Coleman Headley, the Lashkar-e-Taiba operative arraigned in Chicago for his role in the November 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks. Ms. Rao described the U.S. President as being “fully supportive of our request for provision of such access.”

In his meeting with Prime Minister Gilani, Mr. Obama said that “extremists do not distinguish between us and we are truly facing a common enemy,” a White House readout of the exchange said. Mr. Obama also sought to dispel Islamabad's fears that the U.S. had sinister designs towards the country's nuclear programme, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi told reporters later.

Playing his role as an economist to the hilt, Prime Minister Singh told Mr. Obama about the role the U.S. and G-20 could play in speeding up the recovery of the global economy. India was also playing a role in the “architecture of high economic growth,” he said, but warned that the terrorist onslaught in the region “could affect our growth prospects.” This terrorist menace should be tackled and this was an issue on which India and the U.S. stood on the same side, Ms. Rao quoted the Prime Minister as saying. “He said this with specific reference to what is happening in Pakistan and Afghanistan. How this menace was tackled would determine the future of the South Asian region, the Prime Minister said. He mentioned in this context the issue of David Coleman Headley and also the tremendous rise in infiltration across the Line of Control.” Dr. Singh also brought up the activities of the Lashkar-e-Taiba and terrorists like Hafiz Saeed and Ilyas Kashmiri, “as also the fact that unfortunately there was no will on the part of the government of Pakistan to punish those responsible for the terrorist crimes in Mumbai of November 2008,” Ms. Rao said.

Directly spelling out New Delhi's expectations, the Prime Minister said that this was an area “where the partnership of India and the United States could make the difference.”

According to Ms. Rao, President Obama said he shared Dr. Singh's vision of South Asia and that he favoured the reduction of tensions between the two countries. At this point, the Prime Minister stressed the need for Pakistan to take convincing action against those accused of involvement in the Mumbai attacks, the Foreign Secretary said. She added that Mr. Obama fully understood Indian concerns about the LeT and other terrorist groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The U.S. was engaging Islamabad on these issues and would be sensitive to the concerns India has expressed in the context of American security assistance to Pakistan. Asked to elaborate what that meant, Mr. Rao said the issue would be monitored “keeping India's concerns in mind.”

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