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Asia-pacific

Obama and Indian PM Singh hail 'strategic relationship'

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2009-11-24

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, on a visit to the White House, expressed optimism about an "India-US partnership" to contribute to "global peace and stability."

AFP - Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh offered a hand to the United States to help build an "open and inclusive" Asia as President Barack Obama prepared to toast him Tuesday with his first state dinner.

Singh said the world's two largest democracies had common aims on issues from Afghanistan to global health, and said he and Obama would reach some form of common statement on one of the most divisive issues -- climate change.

Obama invited Singh for the first full-fledged state visit since he entered the White House, a ceremonial affair that will culminate in a black-tie dinner Tuesday that is one of Washington's most coveted invitations.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the elaborate welcome showed that Obama considered the India relationship "very important."

Some in India were uneasy about Obama's early focus on reconciling with neighbor China and his giant aid package for traditional rival Pakistan.

Singh, in an address to the Council on Foreign Relations, said the United States and India together can reshape the political landscape in the wake of last year's US-bred global economic meltdown.

"Our generation has an opportunity given to few to remake the new global equilibrium after the irreversible changes" of the crisis, Singh said.

"The India-US partnership can contribute to an orderly transition to the new order and be an important factor for global peace and stability," he said.

Saying Asia was the focal point for major changes, Singh said: "India and the United States can work together with other countries in the region to create an open and inclusive regional architecture."

Obama welcomed Singh days after the US leader paid his maiden visit to China, which in the course of a decade has emerged as the largest holder of the soaring US debt.

The president has faced heavy criticism at home for not achieving more in China, which made no visible goodwill gestures to the young leader such as freeing dissidents and did not nationally broadcast his sole public forum.

While Singh declined to criticize China, he brushed aside concern that India has not grown as quickly as the other Asian giant. He said New Delhi can be proud of its respect for human rights and cultural and religious minorities.

"There are several dimensions of human freedom which are not caught by the number with regard to the gross domestic product," said Singh, himself an economist who spearheaded India's free-market reforms.

In an earlier address, Singh nonetheless highlighted efforts to open the economy and appealed for US investment -- even in once taboo areas of defense and nuclear energy.

"A strategic relationship that is not underpinned by a strong economic relationship is unlikely to prosper," Singh told a luncheon of the US Chamber of Commerce and the US-India Business Council.

Under the previous George W. Bush administration, the United States signed a landmark agreement to end India's isolation on civilian nuclear markets despite New Delhi's refusal to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Obama has pledged to move ahead on the nuclear accord, even though some members of his Democratic Party had initially opposed it.

Singh offered Obama advice on his key foreign priority -- Afghanistan -- urging him to stay committed.

Obama met with top US brass late Monday as he finalizes a decision on whether to reinforce the 68,000 US troops who will be stationed in Afghanistan by year-end.

"Any premature talk of exit will only embolden the terrorist elements who are out to destabilize not only our part of the world but civilized world everywhere," Singh said.

Singh has also called for the United States to step up pressure on Pakistan to rein in Islamic radicals, one year after the Mumbai attacks that killed 166 people.

Pakistan has been critical of India's growing involvement in Afghanistan. But Richard Holbrooke, the US envoy on Afghanistan and Pakistan, said that Islamabad had nothing to fear from Singh's visit.

"We seek to improve our relations with Pakistan. We seek to improve our relations with China. We seek to improve our relations with India. This is not a zero-sum game," Holbrooke said.

Date created : 2009-11-24

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