Obama backs India's drive for UN power

United States President Barack Obama on Monday backed India’s quest for a permanent United Nations Security Council seat, inviting the world’s largest democracy to take its “rightful” place at the summit of global power.

In a symbolic climax of his three-day visit to a nation he hailed as an “indispensable” US partner, Obama delivered the foreign policy victory to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in a landmark address to the Indian Parliament.

But at the same time he warned that with growing power, came increased responsibility as he pointedly criticised India for failing to condemn human rights abuses in neighbouring Burma.

The move on the Security Council seat, intensifying a haggling process on UN reform that could take years, will be seen as an incentive for a government Obama wants to see throw open its markets to US exports in a vast American “job fair”.

Global power
“The just and sustainable international order that US seeks includes a UN that is efficient, effective, credible and legitimate,” Obama said, making a case that India was already an established global power.

“That is why I can say today—in the years ahead, I look forward to a reformed UN Security Council that includes India as a permanent member,” he said, drawing prolonged applause.

While there has been incremental US support for an Indian Security Council seat, Washington had previously stopped short of a full endorsement.

However, US officials said they had yet to work out how a body born in the wreckage of World War II could be reformed to reflect new geopolitical realities, and said India may have to wait a “significant” time.

Obama spoke after meeting Singh and the two sides unveiled a sheaf of economic, environmental and democratic projects to cement one of the “defining partnerships of the 21st century”.

His courtship of India, and current tour of Asia, reflect the rapid growth in India’s economy and a shift in power to emerging nations as a result of the global financial crisis, which has hit Western powers hard.

While piling praise on India, Obama also challenged it to uphold the democratic ideals to which the former jewel in the crown of the British empire owed its independence and rise to prominence.

Seeking an example, he jabbed his hosts on their record on military-ruled Burma, which held elections on Sunday, which Obama said were stolen by the ruling junta.

“When peaceful democratic movements are suppressed, as they have been in Burma, then the democracies of the world cannot remain silent,” Obama said.

“Faced with such gross violations of human rights, it is the responsibility of the international community, especially leaders like the United States and India, to condemn it,” he said.

“If I can be frank, in international fora, India has often shied away from these issues,” he added.

Key US anti-terror ally
Obama also spoke about Pakistan, the key US anti-terror ally but arch-rival of India which accuses it of permitting extremist groups to plot cross-border strikes such as the November 2008 attacks in Mumbai.

“We’ll continue to insist to Pakistan’s leaders that terrorist safe havens within their borders are unacceptable, and that terrorists behind the Mumbai attacks must be brought to justice,” Obama said to applause.

He added that though the US wanted dialogue between the South Asian rivals, their conflicts could be solved by the two nations alone, eschewing any US effort to broker peace talks.

Singh, who enjoys a close relationship with Obama, said the allies would now work as “equal partners in a strategic relationship”.

Obama’s remarks will be closely watched elsewhere in Asia, particularly in China, which will be weighing the geopolitical implications of the embrace ahead of talks between Obama and President Hu Jintao in Seoul this week.

In a carefully worded statement Pakistan’s foreign ministry said that US support for India “adds to the complexity” of reforming the Security Council, adding that it hoped the US would not be swayed by “power politics”.

Relations between Delhi and Washington, characterised by mistrust and occasional hostility during the Cold War, were reset by former US president Bill Clinton in the 1990s and invigorated by his successor, George Bush.

Obama arrived in New Delhi on Sunday after paying homage to victims of terror attacks in Mumbai and seeking job-creating dividends for the struggling US economy in India’s commercial hub.

He unveiled $10-billion in trade deals designed to support US jobs and announced the relaxation of export controls on US technology that can be used for military applications.

On Tuesday Obama will travel to his childhood home in Indonesia, before heading to the G20 summit in Seoul and the APEC gathering of Asia-Pacific leaders in Japan.—AFP

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