Washington, DC: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh offered a hand to the US to help build an “open and inclusive” Asia as US President Barack Obama prepared to toast him on Tuesday with his first state dinner.
Common ground: US President Barack Obama (right) greeting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the White House on Tuesday. Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP
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 climate change.
Obama hailed India as “indispensable” as he welcomed Singh to the White House on the first state visit of his presidency. “This visit reflects the high esteem in which I and the American people hold your wise leadership,” Obama said.
“We seek to broaden and deepen our strategic partnership and to work with the United States to meet the challenges of a fast-changing world in this 21st century,” Singh said.
Some in India were uneasy about Obama’s early focus on reconciling with China and his giant aid package for Pakistan.
Singh, in an address to the Council on Foreign Relations, said the US 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. 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.
In an earlier address, Singh highlighted efforts to open the economy and appealed for US investment—even in once taboo areas of defence 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 former president George W. Bush administration, the US signed a landmark agreement to end India’s isolation on civilian nuclear markets despite New Delhi’s refusal to sign the nuclear 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.
“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 US to step up pressure on Pakistan to rein in Islamic radicals, one year after the Mumbai attacks that killed at least 183 people.