New Delhi: India on Monday laid on the splendour of a state visit for Barack Obama, with the US president due to sketch his vision for a friendship which is quickly deepening, despite some prickly differences.
Indian leaders and commentators were keenly awaiting Obama’s comments on Pakistan, terrorism, fast-expanding economic ties and India’s emergence as a key world power in his formal address to parliament.
Talks were also scheduled between Obama and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh before a full state dinner designed to enshrine improvements in what the president terms an “indispensible” cornerstone of US diplomacy.
Obama arrived in New Delhi on Sunday, after paying homage to victims of terror in Mumbai, and seeking job-creating dividends for the struggling US economy in India’s commercial hub.
He also raised expectations by lavishing praise on India and hinting that Washington was ready to welcome the emerging giant to the top table of world diplomacy.
“The US-India relationship will be indispensable in shaping the 21st century,” Obama said Sunday, saying the nations were united by democracy, security interests, values and as victims of terror.
“The United States does not just believe, as some people say, that India is a rising power, we believe that India has already risen,” Obama said at a town hall meeting with students.
Indian leaders will also be keen to hear Obama’s position on their country’s aspirations to win a permanent seat on the UN Security Council consistent with its role as an emerging great power.
So far, US officials have sidestepped the question of timing on the issue, saying India’s enhanced status must form part of what are likely to be highly contentious negotiations to reinvigorate and reform the world body.
India and the United States have differed in the past on the best way to tackle global warming, so the language on the issue in a joint statement will also be significant, as will the tone of the document towards Pakistan.
Obama’s remarks will also be closely watched elsewhere in Asia, particularly in China, which will be weighing the geopolitical implications of the US embrace of India ahead of Obama’s talks with President Hu Jintao in Seoul this week.
US treasury secretary Timothy Geithner, who spent childhood years in India and is also a China expert, was due to hold talks with finance minister Pranab Mukherjee on Monday.
In an article in the Hindustan Times, Geither argued that India and the United States must work in the G20 to promote more sustainable global growth.
“The leading edge of the economic partnership between our countries is the deepening ties between American and Indian business — ties bolstered by the announcement this weekend of significant new US-India trade transactions,” Geither wrote.
Obama gingerly ventured into the diplomatic minefield between India and Pakistan, insisting New Delhi had the most to gain from a stable Pakistan, while urging Islamabad to do more to address extremism.
“My hope is that, over time, trust develops between the two countries, that dialogue begins perhaps on less controversial issues building up to more controversial issues,” he said on the second day of a three-day trip to India.
India is extremely sensitive about outside interference in its relations with Pakistan, particularly over the disputed region of Kashmir, and Obama was keen to avoid upsetting his host or angering Pakistan, a key anti-terror ally.
“I am absolutely convinced that the country that has the biggest stake in Pakistan is India,” he told students in Mumbai.
“If Pakistan is stable and prosperous, that’s best for India,” he added.
Obama’s remarks on Pakistan did not break new diplomatic ground for the United States — his government has said before that Pakistan must do more on extremism — but were highly significant given their venue in Mumbai.
A total of 166 people were killed in November 2008 attacks in the city blamed on the outlawed Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) extremist group, which is based on Pakistani soil.
Obama started his India visit, the first stop of a four-nation Asian tour, on Saturday, unveiling $10 billion in trade deals designed to bankroll US jobs after voters handed him a severe rebuke in mid-term elections Tuesday.
On Tuesday he heads to his childhood home in Indonesia, before heading to the G-20 summit in Seoul and the APEC gathering of regional leaders in Japan.