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Obama to focus on jobs, economy on India visit

President Barack Obama will argue that India's emerging might can help speed the US economy's slow crawl out of crisis on a state visit next month packed with business-themed events.

world Updated: Oct 30, 2010 15:09 IST

President Barack Obama will argue that India's emerging might can help speed the US economy's slow crawl out of crisis on a state visit next month packed with business-themed events.

After an expected rebuke from voters in mid-term elections, and with few economists predicting a quick return to soaring US growth, Obama will speak as much to Americans as the population of India on his three-day visit.

"We're talking about the fastest-growing economic region of the world and our ability to interact with it, to sell our goods and our services," said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs previewing Obama's trip on Wednesday.

Gibbs said the trip will show that US relations with Asia and particularly India were important to "export our goods, to sell those products and to create and support jobs here in America."

White House officials unveiled details of the trip, which will feature set pieces like Obama's address to the Indian parliament and visits to cultural sites, along with talks and a state with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Obama's schedule will be heavy on events focusing on economic synergies between India and the United States, and appears less likely to emphasize diplomatic issues, like the Indo-Pakistani row over Kashmir.

Michael Froman, a key White House economic aide, said India was a "tremendous potential market" for US exports and a source of investment back into the United States, both of which could support American jobs.

Froman said that US exports to India had quadrupled over the last seven years to about 17 billion dollars a year, and service exports had tripled to 10 billion dollars a year.

Indian companies meanwhile are the second-fastest growing investors in the United States and now support 57,000 US jobs, he said.

While stressing economic dimensions of the US-India relationship, officials Wednesday sidestepped some of the more contentious aspects of relations.

Undersecretary of state for political affairs William Burns was asked whether Obama would publicly mention the dispute between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, but only said that Washington supported dialogue.

Burns also said that questions over India's claim to a permament seat on the United Nations Security Council should be dealt with in the wider context of reforming the organization.

Another key advisor, Ben Rhodes, skipped past reports that Obama decided not to visit the Sikh Golden Temple in Amritsar as he would have had to cover his head, and provide ammunition to critics who erroneously brand him a Muslim.

Rhodes also said that Obama decided not to visit Pakistan during this Asia swing to ensure Islamabad would get "proper" attention on a visit next year.

However, it may be that current US-Pakistani tensions or a desire not to offend India by lavishing attention on its arch rival might also have weighed on the decision.

Obama will leave the United States on November 5, three days after congressional elections in which his Democrats fear a heavy defeat.

After arriving in India on November 6, Obama will deliver a statement at the Taj Mahal Palace hotel in memory of those killed in the Mumbai terror attacks in 2008. Obama will also stay in the hotel.

After visiting the Gandhi museum, Obama will take deliver a speech on the potential of US-India economic growth at a US-India Business Council summit, and hold separate roundtables with entrepreneurs and CEOs.

The next day, Obama will visit a Mumbai school to help celebrate the Hindu Diwali festival of lights, then hold a town hall meeting with local students, in which he will highlight joint projects on food security and democracy.

Later, in New Delhi, Obama will visit the tomb of the Mughal Emperor Humayun, before he and First Lady Michelle Obama dine with Singh and his wife.

"The president's had a very close personal relationship with Prime Minister Singh," said Rhodes, a deputy national security advisor.

"I think he's someone who has had a close intellectual connection with the president."

On Monday, November 8, Obama will visit the grave of Mahatma Gandi in New Delhi, before official talks and a press conference with Singh.

His address to the Indian parliament will take place before a state dinner, after he hosted Singh at his first state dinner as president last year.

Obama leaves India, for Jakarta, on November 8, then travels on to Japan for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit and the G20 summit in South Korea.