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Obama endorses India for U.N. Security Council seat

The president and the first lady visited India and Indonesia, part of a 10-day trip to Asia, the longest foreign trip of Obama's presidency.

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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.

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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.

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