- The Washington Times - Monday, November 8, 2010

NEW DELHI | President Obama moved to cement the U.S. alliance with India, endorsing on Monday his host’s bid for a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council as recognition of the country’s growing political, economic and military clout.

But in a speech to India’s parliament, Mr. Obama also criticized the world’s largest democracy for failing to denounce human rights abuses in neighboring Burma.

Mr. Obama made the symbolic gesture on the final day of a high-profile three-day visit, during which he sought to deepen the two nation’s economic ties and bolster Indian support for U.S. efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He also pledged American assistance in resolving the conflict over the disputed territory of Kashmir, but warned that the U.S. “cannot impose a solution to these problems.”

Describing the U.S.-India relationship as “one of the defining partnerships of the 21st century,” Mr. Obama told Indian lawmakers they have his backing in their bid to join the five-member U.N. Security Council, although it’s not clear when the organization is likely to reconsider its structure.

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

Five powers — the U.S., England, France, China and Russia — have permanent seats on the Security Council and a right to veto Security Council resolutions. The lineup has not changed since the post-World War II formation of the world body.

India, Japan, Germany and Brazil have all made the case for a permanent seat. But Washington had only previously endorsed Japan’s bid. China, India’s main rival for power and clout in Asia, has long opposed India’s Security Council ambitions.

With bilateral ties warming rapidly since the Clinton administration, Mr. Obama has made a point of emphasizing the importance of India to both the security and the success of the United States. Coinciding with Mr. Obama’s visit, executives from the two countries have agreed to nearly $15 billion in new business deals, according to the White House, which said more than $9 billion of that will come from U.S. exports, supporting 53,670 jobs.

In a joint press conference with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Mr. Obama stressed that increased trade with India will not come at the expense of U.S. workers, stressing the partnership as a “win-win” for both countries.

“I want to be able to say to the American people 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,’ ” Mr. Obama told reporters. “And that’s why we shouldn’t be resorting to protectionist measures. We shouldn’t be thinking that it’s just a one-way street.”

Mr. Singh likewise defended his country’s burgeoning technology industry, saying, “India is not in the business of stealing jobs” from the U.S., but rather improving the “productivity” of the American economy through outsourcing.

On the thorny topic of Pakistan - which was home to the gunmen behind the November 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks - Mr. Obama told parliament that his administration will “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.”

Mr. Obama pledged U.S. help in addressing the disagreement over Kashmir, the region at the core of India’s dispute with Pakistan, but noted that the U.S. role would be limited. India has long resisted any proposal for outside mediation of the dispute, from Washington or anywhere else.

“The United States cannot impose a solution to these problems, but I’ve indicated to Prime Minister Singh that we are happy to play any role that the parties think is appropriate in reducing these tensions,” he said.

Mr. Singh said in a joint press conference with Mr. Obama that while he thinks 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.”

Jammu and Kashmir is a Muslim-majority Indian state in Hindu-majority India. It’s been the source of three wars between India and Pakistan, two nuclear-armed neighbors, since 1947. About 65 percent of Kashmir is administered by India and 35 percent by Pakistan.

Pakistani officials reacted sharply to Mr. Obama’s call for an Indian seat on the Security Council, 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.”

In a visit filled with praise and platitudes, Mr. Obama was conspicuously blunt in his criticism of India’s tepid response to the situation in Burma, where Western officials charge that a military dictatorship suppresses basic freedoms and this week staged widely criticized national elections. He argued that with India’s rise on the global stage comes a greater responsibility to defend democracy and speak out when basic human rights are violated.

“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. And if I can be frank, in international fora, India has often shied away from some of these issues,” Mr. Obama said. “But speaking up for those who cannot do so for themselves is not interfering in the affairs of other countries. It’s not violating the rights of sovereign nations. It is staying true to our democratic principles.”

President Clinton and President George W. Bush both made high-profile visits to India, but Indian essayist and social historian Mukul Kesavan described Mr. Obama’s remarks on this trip as “India’s coming-of-age speech.”

The three-day stay in India started Mr. Obama’s longest foreign trip since taking office.

He next heads to Indonesia en route to Seoul for the Group of 20 summit of global finance ministers and heads of state. The meeting comes days after the Federal Reserve’s controversial decision to pump $600 billion into the economy through the purchase of government bonds, a move that drew swift and sharp criticism from world leaders concerned about the impact of artificially weakening the dollar.

Mr. Obama shrugged off a question on the matter at Monday’s press conference, noting that the Fed operates independently of the White House.

Kara Rowland reported from Washington.

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