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Obama endorses India for U.N. Security Council seat

By Scott Wilson and Emily Wax
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, November 8, 2010; 10:31 PM

NEW DELHI - President Obama endorsed India's desire for a permanent seat on an expanded U.N. Security Council, a symbolic gesture sure to cement the goodwill he earned on a visit here this week but equally likely to trouble neighboring China and Pakistan.

Obama's embrace of the idea, part of a generous valedictory to India's Parliament and people, demonstrated the geopolitical complexity that the United States faces in the region and that the president has had to navigate. While there is little prospect that other members of the Security Council will agree to invite India in, Washington is heavily dependent on China for its economic engine and counts on Pakistan to help it wage the Afghan war.

On the eve of his arrival three days ago, many Indians believed Obama placed their interests behind those of its regional rivals. Few Indians hold the same opinion as he leaves.

"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. "With India assuming its rightful place in the world, we have a historic opportunity to make the relationship between our two countries a defining partnership of the century ahead."

On his last day here, Obama paid tribute to India's national hero, Mohandas K. Gandhi, called Prime Minister Manmohan Singh "a dear friend," and, in a speech that he sprinkled with Hindi words and phrases, criticized Pakistan for not stopping terrorism.

That criticism in some ways may have been an effort to make amends for an earlier rhetorical misstep, when on a first-day visit to a memorial he did not mention Pakistan as the staging ground for the Nov. 26, 2008, terrorist attack in Mumbai, which killed more than 160 people. The next day, a 19-year-old college student in Mumbai asked him why he did not call Pakistan a "terrorist state."

Obama's careful answer, coupled with the previous day's omission, infuriated Indian commentators, who said the president was coddling Pakistan.

But in his parliamentary address, Obama said, "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 line received the most applause of the evening.

"In Mumbai, Obama looked like a salesman of American companies," said Sanjay Nirupam, a lawmaker from Mumbai, referring to the billions of dollars in aircraft, engine and other export contracts the president announced there. "In today's speech, he came across as a salesman for India."

Obama's fondness for India is in part rooted in his fondness for its leader.

Singh is a bookish, Oxford-educated economist whom Obama admired from the time of their first lunch together at the Group of 20 summit in London in 2009.

At a news conference after their Monday meeting, Obama called Singh "a man of extraordinary intellect and great integrity." Singh returned the favor by endorsing a U.S. move to promote economic growth at home that has angered other economic powers on the eve of the G-20 summit in Seoul. Obama will heads to the conference later this week.

The Federal Reserve announced last week that it will buy $600 billion in U.S. Treasury securities, a move that will use government money to keep interest rates low. The move comes as some countries are urging Obama to stop public spending for fear of inflation. Germany has criticized the move sharply, saying it will weaken Obama's ability to pressure China to allow its currency to appreciate.

Even before his arrival, Obama said India and the three other Asian democracies he is visiting during his 10-day trip are essential to his goal of doubling U.S. exports over the next five years.

Behind his ambition is the belief that Asia's rising middle class could drive U.S. economic growth for years to come, taking the burden off American consumers recovering from the credit crisis.

China, even more than India, is emerging as the market with the most potential for U.S. exports. Yet China's artificially high currency value makes U.S. products too expensive for many Chinese consumers, hurting Obama's ability to meet his export goals.

Obama intended to make that point at the G-20 meeting, but his endorsement of India's bid for a permanent seat on the Security Council could complicate his ability to do so.

He is scheduled to meet on the conference sidelines with Chinese President Hu Jintao, who will probably want an explanation of Obama's position. China, which already has a permanent seat on the Security Council, has little interest in the promotion of its economic rival. Obama's call on Monday could also upset Germany and Japan, which have long sought seats. U.S. officials say the Obama administration backs Japan's bid.

Obama's endorsement does not offer any guarantee that India will secure a Security Council seat, which requires a vote by two-thirds of the U.N. General Assembly membership and approval by the council's five permanent members - the United States, Britain, China, France and Russia.

The pace of change at the United Nations is notoriously slow, and proposals to expand the Security Council's composition face steep resistance. India will also face opposition from nations that say its conduct in the disputed region of Kashmir violates key U.N. resolutions. In their joint news conference, Obama hewed to Singh's preferred position for the United States regarding Kashmir, saying that he "cannot impose a solution" on the countries.

Those words heartened Indian officials, who want the United States to urge Pakistan to crack down on Islamist militant groups while ignoring Kashmir, a Muslim-majority area that has been demanding independence from India for decades. Pakistan has supported those aspirations by sending trained militants into Kashmir.

Shortly after Obama's speech to Parliament, Pakistan chided the president for endorsing India's U.N. ambitions. In a statement, Pakistan's Foreign Ministry cited "India's conduct in relations with its neighbors and its continued flagrant violations of Security Council resolutions" regarding Kashmir. Pakistan, the statement said, hopes the United States will "take a moral view" of the issue and set aside "any temporary expediency or exigencies of power politics."

There was no immediate reaction from China. Ties between India and China, Asia's two 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. They share a disputed 1,240-mile border that has never been delineated, and Chinese commentators have been concerned that the growing relations between India and the United States are an attempt to "encircle" China.

wilsons@washpost.com waxe@washpost.com

Correspondents Rama Lakshmi in New Delhi and Keith B. Richburg in Beijing and staff writer Colum Lynch in New York contributed to this report.

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