Obama boosts India for ‘rightful place in world’
NEW DELHI – Deepening America’s stake in Asian power politics, President Barack Obama on Monday endorsed India’s bid to become a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, hoping to elevate the nation of a billion people to “its rightful place in the world” alongside an assertive China.
Obama’s declaration, delivered to the pounding applause of India’s parliament members, spoke to a mission broader than the makeup of one global institution. By spending three packed days in India, announcing trade deals, dismissing job-outsourcing gripes and admonishing India’s rival Pakistan, Obama went all in for an ally whose support he hopes to bank on for years.
“I want every Indian citizen to know: The United States of America will not simply be cheering you on from the sidelines,” Obama said inside the soaring legislative chamber of the capital city. “We will be right there with you, shoulder to shoulder, because we believe in the promise of India.”
To Obama, that promise entails shaking up the world order by giving more voice to developing countries that offer lucrative markets for U.S. products and potential help to counter terrorism and a warming planet. India fits Obama’s agenda perfectly because it is the world’s largest democracy and sits in the heart of a pivotal, vexing region.
The diplomacy in India also gave Obama a chance to reassert himself on the global stage, far from Washington in the aftermath after humbling congressional elections.
His final day in India began with a lavish welcome ceremony at the majestic palace residence of India’s president and ended there as Obama and his wife, Michelle, were toasted to a state dinner.
The capstone of Obama’s outreach here came when he announced support for India’s long push to achieve a permanent place on the Security Council, the elite body responsible for maintaining international peace. It underlined Obama’s contention that the partnership between the U.S. and India could have defining impact on both countries and the world.
“The just and sustainable international order that America seeks includes a United Nations that is efficient, effective, credible and legitimate,” Obama said as he called for India to be part of a reformed council.
Yet White House aides acknowledge any changes to the council could be messy and years in the making. Attempts to expand the council have long failed because of rivalries between countries.
India considered Obama’s move to be an enormous coup regardless.
India is part of the so-called Group of Four, with Germany, Japan and Brazil, that has been seeking permanent seats as major economic and political powers. U.S. backing for a permanent seat for India is important, but officials here must also win support of the other veto-wielding council members, and the General Assembly has to agree on reform plan.
The five permanent members of the Security Council are the U.S., China, France, the United Kingdom and Russia. The only other country the U.S. has endorsed for permanent membership is Japan.
Pakistan criticized Obama’s statement, accusing India of “blatant violations” of U.N. resolutions and calling on the U.S. to “take a moral view and not base itself on any temporary expediency or exigencies of power politics.” China has long objected to India’s proposed ascension to the council
The dangerous tensions between neighboring Pakistan and India helped frame Obama’s trip. Pakistan is vitally important to Obama’ bid to root out terrorists and win the war in Afghanistan. But India is deeply suspicious of Pakistan and demanding a stronger crackdown on extremist elements within the country’s borders.
In another key gesture, Obama went further than he had earlier in addressing the terror threat inside Pakistan.
“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,” the president said. He was referring to the 2008 attacks on the Indian financial hub that left 166 people dead at the hands of Pakistani-based extremists.
Much of any discussion about India is also seen through the prism of China — both by the White House and by nations within Asia that are wary of China’s growing might. A higher standing by India is widely seen as a way to keep power in balance in Asia, although Obama is also reaching out to China and will meet with its president later this week.
Obama coupled the Security Council endorsement with an admonition for India that “with increased power comes increased responsibility.” He said it is leadership, not intervention, when a country acts to the stop the oppression of another.
“Faced with such gross violations of human rights, it is the responsibility of the international community — especially leaders like the United States and India — to condemn it,” Obama said in his parliament speech. “And if I can be frank, in international fora, India has often shied away from some of these issues.”
Earlier Monday, Obama and India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh stood in solidarity at a news conference in citing all the ways, from security to education, that their nations’ relationship is growing. On the economy, Singh joined Obama in dismissing criticism of outsourcing work to other countries, saying his nation “is not in the business of stealing jobs from America.”
Questioned about Pakistan, Obama answered carefully, encouraging India and Pakistan to move toward peace and saying the U.S. would be “happy to play any role the parties think is appropriate” but couldn’t “impose a solution.”
Singh said that while he believes a strong, moderate Pakistan is in the interest of India and the wider region, India can’t engage in talks as long as Pakistan’s “terror machine is as active as ever before.”
Obama departs early Tuesday for Indonesia, the country where he spent four years as a boy. From there, he heads to economic meetings in South Korea and Japan. The president returns to Washington on Nov. 14.
Associated Press writers Ravi Nessman, Ashok Sharma, Erica Werner and Edith M. Lederer contributed to this report.