Obama supports adding India as a permanent member of U.N. Security Council

By Emily Wax and Rama Lakshmi
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, November 8, 2010; 11:49 AM

NEW DELHI - President Obama said Monday that the United States would support adding India as a permanent member of an expanded U.N. Security Council - a powerful endorsement of India's growing economic power and global aspirations, but one likely to anger China and Pakistan.

India has campaigned hard for a U.N. seat, long a subtext of a warming India and U.S. relationship. Obama embraced the idea in a speech to India's parliament that emphasized Washington's efforts to deepen its economic and defense relationship with the world's biggest democracy.

"The United States not only welcomes India as a rising global power, we fervently support it, and we have worked to help make it a reality," Obama said. In Asia and around the world, he said, "India is not simply emerging; India has already emerged. And it is my firm belief that the relationship between the United States and India - bound by our shared interests and values - will be one of the defining partnerships of the 21st century."

Saying that the United States seeks an "efficient, effective, credible and legitimate" United Nations, Obama told the parliament that "in the years ahead, I look forward to a reformed United Nations Security Council that includes India as a permanent member." He did not say what shape the reforms should take or specify whether India should have veto power, as the five current permanent Security Council members do.

Obama's endorsement does not set a time frame for when India would secure a permanent Security Council seat. Nor does it offer any guarantee that India would secure such a seat.

The pace of reform at the United Nations is notoriously slow, and proposals to expand the Security Council's composition face resistance from a number of other nations, including some current permanent members who have little interest in seeing their power diluted.

India's quest for a seat would like face particular opposition from China, a permanent member of the council and India's economic rival, and from nations and advocacy groups who say India's conduct in the disputed Kashmir region and elsewhere consistently violates key U.N. resolutions.

China's official news agency, Xinhua, reported Obama's support for a permanent Indian Security Council seat in a brief news story without comment.

Ties between India and China, Asia's two nuclear-armed giants, have been growing closer in recent years, with their two-way trade expected to reach $60 billion this year. But they remain more rivals than friends. The two share a disputed 2,100-mile border that has never been delineated and have fought border skirmishes in the past. India has rankled China by hosting the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, and his government-in-exile, while China's close ties to Pakistan have aroused suspicion in India. Chinese commentators have expressed concerned that the growing relations between India and the United States are an attempt to "encircle" China.

Shortly after the speech, Pakistan expressed opposition to a permanent seat for India and chided Obama's endorsement for adding "complexity to the process" of reforming the Security Council. In a statement, the Pakistani Foreign Ministry cited "India's conduct in relations with its neighbors and its continued flagrant violations of Security Council resolutions" on Kashmir as reasons to discredit the proposal. It said Pakistan hopes the United States would "take a moral view" of the issue and set aside "any temporary expediency or exigencies of power politics."

This summer, Indian security forces shot and killed more than 100 stone-throwing youths in Kashmir. The majority-Muslim Himalayan province is a stubborn point of tension between nuclear-armed neighbors India and Pakistan.

More broadly, the U.N. Human Development Report said India fares worse than Pakistan on gender equality issues such as a maternal mortality, education and nutrition.

But within India, which a few weeks ago was elected one of 10 rotating members of the Security Council, getting a permanent seat is seen as an honor and a recognition of power that the growing economic powerhouse has earned.

One Indian announcer praised Obama's endorsement of India as a "tribute to 1.2 billion people." Others called it an high note coming on the third and last day of Obama's India trip.

"India's position has been that we are not asking this prematurely, we are asking for it at a time when it is more or less irrefutable," said Srinath Raghavan, a senior Fellow at New Delhi's Center for Policy Research. "The key attribute of a great power is not just military or economic power, but the ability to set the agenda of international politics. The U.N. Security Council has a great deal of control over what is discussed."

Japan is the only other nation Obama has endorsed for a permanent seat on the Security Council.

It was not clear until shortly before his parliamentary address that Obama would call for India to join an expanded council on a permanent basis. Before the president left Washington, he said that a permanent seat for India was "complicated" - a statement that triggered anger here.

(India was offered a permanent seat on the council 55 years ago, in 1955. But that offer, made by the United States and the Soviet Union, was declined by India's first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. Nehru said the seat should be given to China instead.)

In his address, Obama noted that India would hold one of the temporary seats on the Security Council for the next two years.

Earlier Monday, Obama pledged to strengthen U.S.-India efforts to fight and prevent terrorism and to work with all South Asian nations to deny safe havens to terrorists.

But at a joint news conference with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Obama steered clear of the contentious issue of trying to mediate long-standing tensions between India and Pakistan over Kashmir.

Obama said the United States "cannot impose a solution" between India and Pakistan. He said his country is "happy to play any role the parties think is appropriate" but added that the two neighbors will have to "find mechanisms to work out these very difficult issues."

These were heartening words for Indian officials, who want the United States to play a role in curbing the activities of Islamic militant groups in Pakistan but at the same time stay out of facilitating a resolution over Kashmir.

The Muslim-majority province has been demanding independence from India for many decades now, and Pakistan has supported those aspirations by sending trained militants into Kashmir to aid in the struggle. The two nations have fought three wars since gaining independence from British colonial rule.

Singh said during the news conference that dialogue with Pakistan cannot succeed as long as Pakistani groups continue to stage terrorist attacks in India.

"You cannot simultaneously be talking and at the same time the terror machine is as active as before," Singh said. "Once Pakistan moves away from this terror-induced coercion, we will be very happy to engage productively with Pakistan and resolve all outstanding issues."

Obama also said that the United States will work with India and its neighbors to improve security at ports, airports and border areas, "to ensure there are no safe havens for terrorists."

Announcing a range of agreements with India in the field of counterterrorism, nuclear nonproliferation, agriculture, education and clean energy, Obama said that the two democracies have a responsibility to lead the global efforts on combating extremist violence and controlling the spread of nuclear weapons in the world.

"Ours is not an ordinary relationship," Obama said about ties with India. "As the world's largest democracies, as growing market economies, we have not only an opportunity but also a responsibility to lead."

Obama said the United States will take Indian defense organizations off a list of companies prohibited from receiving dual-use high technology exports. The United States will also work with India in strengthening weather and crop forecasting technology, and will partner with India to set up a global disease detection center and a clean energy research initiative.

The two countries will meet at a higher education summit next year and establish new centers to curb nuclear proliferation, Obama said.

Staff writers Keith B. Richburg in Beijing and William Branigin in Washington contributed to this report.

waxe@washpost.com lakshmir@washpost.com

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