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Obama welcomes PM, says India is indispensable to US

world Updated: Nov 24, 2009 23:14 IST

AP
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US President Barack Obama showered praise on India and PM Manmohan Singh in an elaborate welcoming ceremony Tuesday, declaring it was only fitting the Indian leader should be the first state visitor of his administration.

Obama said the United States and India share the "bold experiments" of becoming democracies after breaking from rule by a colonial power, and in modern times both have known the pain of international terrorism.

"Our nations are two global leaders, driven not to dominate other nations but to build a future of security and prosperity for all nations," Obama said

Chilly, damp weather led the White House to move the ceremony indoors, where Singh and Obama stood before photographers and television cameras in the East Room as a Marine band played the national anthems of their countries.

Singh said that India and the US are separated by distance but bound by common national values of "democracy, pluralism, rule of law and respect for fundamental human freedoms." Singh has said he is optimistic about the future of the U.S.-Indian relationship and is looking for a "strategic partnership of global dimensions." White House spokesman Robert Gibbs called Singh's visit a show of respect acknowledging India's growing economic and political power.

Behind the pomp of the state visit, Singh and Obama will be working to smooth over differences on climate change and U.S. ties with Indian rivals China and Pakistan.

The White House is eager to show that, despite what some Indians see as a lack of attention during Obama's first 10 months, it values Singh's country as a key partner in dealing with extremists in South Asia, in settling international trade and global warming pacts and in steering the world economy out of turmoil.

Indians will be looking for Obama to reverse a perception that he neglected India during his recent trip to Asia and seemed to endorse a stronger role for China in India's sensitive dealings with Pakistan.

Obama wants to re-establish the strong feelings of goodwill the countries enjoyed during George W. Bush's presidency. Bush is credited with transforming the relationship after decades of Cold War-era distrust.

The symbol of those new ties is a civilian nuclear cooperation accord signed into law last year after years of close communication and tough negotiation.

As Obama and Singh meet, a major topic will be Pakistan, India's bitter rival and a country the United States relies on in the fight against extremists along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. Singh on Monday urged Islamabad to deal with those who planned last year's Mumbai terrorist attacks, which left 166 people dead. Pakistan "should be pressurized by the world community to do much more to bring to book all those people who are responsible for this horrible crime," Singh said. "The trauma of the attack continues to haunt us."

In an attempt to ease another source of tension, Singh also said Indian and U.S. officials will sign a memorandum Tuesday intended to improve cooperation on energy security, clean energy and climate change. He did not provide details.

Developing and industrialized countries have bickered as they prepare to negotiate a new global climate change treaty at a December summit in Copenhagen, meant to replace the 1997 Kyoto Protocol on carbon dioxide emissions.

Developing countries argue that rich countries produced most of the heat-trapping greenhouse gases on their march to development and should therefore bear the costs of fixing the problem. Wealthy nations say all countries, including large polluters India and China have to agree to broad cuts in emissions. India is willing to work on any climate solution that does not hurt developing countries' efforts to lift their populations out of poverty, Singh said.

Also lingering as Obama and Singh meet will be a nervousness in India about increasing U.S. reliance on Asia's other huge power, China, to tackle global crises.

Some saw a joint statement last week by Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao that mentioned India-Pakistan ties as a hint that Obama wants Beijing more involved in South Asian diplomacy. The Indian Foreign Ministry firmly shot down the idea of a "third country" role in India-Pakistan affairs.