US President Barack Obama on Thursday called deepening ties with India one of his administration’s most important goals. Announcing that he will visit the rising Asian power in early November, Obama said the US-Indian relationship will help shape the coming century.
Obama’s comments came during the inaugural US-India Strategic Dialogue, a high-level meeting that is meant to ease Indians’ fears that their country is slipping behind rivals China and Pakistan in US interest.
“Our relations with India are at the highest of priorities for my administration and for me personally as president of the United States,” Obama said at a reception at the State Department hosted by US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton for her Indian counterpart, S.M. Krishna, and an array of US and Indian officials.
Obama called India “a responsible global power” and said the US-India relationship “will be a defining partnership of the 21st century.”
The Obama administration is working hard at this week’s meetings to reassure India because the nuclear-armed country is an important player in many of the global issues the US wants solved.
India is seen as crucial to the US-led fight against extremists in Pakistan and Afghanistan, as a counterweight to powerful China and as a big part of settling world trade and climate change deals.
The US, Obama said, values India not merely for its crucial geographic position in South Asia, but because of the deep social, political and strategic values the countries share.
“India is indispensable to the future that we seek,” he said.
US-India ties were transformed after decades of mistrust when the administration of Obama’s predecessor, former US president George W. Bush, pushed through a landmark 2008 accord to establish civilian nuclear trade with formerly shunned India. Since then, however, India has watched with wariness as Washington has forged deep bonds with Indian neighbors China and Pakistan.
Earlier on Thursday, Krishna added a note of tension to the talks when he made a push for India to be allowed to interview a US citizen linked to the deadly 2008 Mumbai terror attacks.
Without mentioning the name of the American, Krishna told Clinton during the dialogue’s televised opening ceremonies that giving India access to people the US apprehended in connection with the attacks on its financial capital that left 166 people dead “is perhaps the logical next step.”
Clinton did not publicly respond, and neither the State Department nor the Justice Department would comment on India’s request. The American, David Coleman Headley, has pleaded guilty to scouting Mumbai before the attacks.
A major part of the talks dealt with extremists in Pakistan, both those fighting US troops from havens along the Afghan-Pakistan border and those that India blames for the killings in Mumbai.