Obama hails ties with 'world power' India

NEW DELHI (AFP) – President Barack Obama heaped praise on his host India on Monday as he set out his vision for relations with a country that he said was now an established world power and a cornerstone of US policy.

Obama arrived in New Delhi on Sunday for the final leg of his three-day trip, after paying homage to victims of terror in Mumbai, and seeking job-creating dividends for the struggling US economy in India's commercial hub.

US President Barack Obama inspects a guard of honour during a welcoming ceremony at the Presidential palace in New Dehli on November 8, 2010. AFP

During talks with Indian Premier Manmohan Singh, he said he would raise cooperation on counter-terrorism and the economy, but the two men are also expected to discuss Afghanistan, Pakistan and China.

Singh is also likely to press Obama to support his country's aspirations to win a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, which the US backs in principle but has so far remained uncommitted on the question of timing.

"India is not simply an emerging power, but now is a world power," Obama told reporters after inspecting a ceremonial guard of honour as he was welcomed at the presidential palace.

He said the alliance between the United States and India "will be one of defining partnerships of the 21st century".

"We are the two largest democracies in the world. We share extraordinary people-to-people contacts. Most importantly we share a core set of values," he added.

The two countries do have differences and a joint statement by Obama and Singh, as well as an expected address to the Indian parliament later Monday, will be closely scrutinised for its tone and language.

There have been prickly moments in the recent past over the best way to tackle global warming, and India will also seek assurances from the US that it will push neighbour Pakistan to combat militant groups that target New Delhi.

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

Foreign policy experts say Washington is supportive of India's economic and diplomatic rise as an Asian counterweight to an increasingly assertive China.

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 W. Bush.

Obama started his India visit, the first stop of a four-nation Asian tour, on Saturday, unveiling 10 billion dollars in trade deals designed to bankroll US jobs after voters handed him a severe rebuke in mid-term elections.

On Tuesday he travels to his childhood home in Indonesia, before heading to the G20 summit in Seoul and the APEC gathering of regional leaders in Japan.

Also Monday, US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, who spent childhood years in India and is also a China expert, held talks with Indian Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee.

In an article in the Hindustan Times, Geithner argued that India and the United States must work in the G20 to promote more sustainable global growth.

"The leading edge of the economic partnership between our countries is the deepening ties between American and Indian business -- ties bolstered by the announcement this weekend of significant new US-India trade transactions," Geither wrote.

On Sunday, Obama gingerly ventured into the diplomatic minefield of India-Pakistan relations, insisting New Delhi had the most to gain from a stable Pakistan, while urging Islamabad to do more to address extremism.

"My hope is that, over time, trust develops between the two countries, that dialogue begins perhaps on less controversial issues building up to more controversial issues," he said.

India is extremely sensitive about outside interference in its relations with Pakistan, particularly over the disputed region of Kashmir, and Obama was keen to avoid upsetting his host or angering Pakistan, a key anti-terror ally.

Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari said Sunday that India had failed to respond to peace overtures from Islamabad, which has pressed New Delhi to restart full peace talks.

"It would have been most helpful if our initiatives had been welcomed and responded to in a positive manner," he told a South Asia media conference in Islamabad.

India has called on Islamabad to do more to crack down on extremism.

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