US president Barack Obama met both Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani within two hours of each other on Sunday, fully endorsing India’s concerns on terrorism, but also taking care not to offend Pakistan while emphasizing the need to do more against terror.
At their 40-minute meeting, Obama told Singh the US was fully supportive of India’s request for access to Lashkar-e-Tayebba operative David Headley, currently in US custody.
Obama’s meeting with Gilani lasted half an hour, which he used to emphasise that the perpetrators of the 26/11 Mumbai attack had to be brought to justice, while refusing any commitment on a civil nuclear deal with Pakistan similar to the one with India. But he also added that Pakistan was a country he was “very fond of”, which he had visited during his college days and that the US’s relationship with it went well beyond mere “security cooperation”.
Singh, during his meeting with the US president, listed in detail New Delhi’s concerns over terrorism emanating from Pakistan. He noted that terrorism emanating from the neighbourhood would affect India’s future prospects, just as it was poised on a higher economic growth trajectory.
On Obama’s view of the Headley issue, Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao said: “President Obama was fully supportive of the request for the provision of such access.”
“The US is working through its legal systems to provide it,” Rao added.
Getting access to Headley requires the agreement of several US government agencies as well as the judge presiding over Headley’s case.
Obama told both Singh and Gilanai that improved relations between India and Pakistan would help stabilize the region.
The concern over US military assistance to Pakistan — which Rao described as “security assistance” —and its possible diversion to military operations against India was also raised during the Singh-Obama meeting. “President Obama fully appreciated India’s concerns… The president said that the US will engage Pakistan on these issues,” said Rao.
Rao also said Obama expressed appreciation for Indian “sacrifices and contribution” in Afghanistan. The meeting took place against a backdrop of US and Indian differences over the former’s Afghanistan-Pakistan policy.
Obama said the nuclear enrichment and reprocessing pact, one of the last elements in the Indo-US nuclear deal, had been finalized and hoped India’s Nuclear Liability Bill would be passed “expeditiously”.