From the time he opened the meeting with a “Namaste” and announced “happily” that he would be visiting India in 2010, US President Barack Obama hit all the right buttons here on Tuesday to erase any impression that he had downgraded ties with New Delhi in deference to China.
Calling India and “rising and responsible global power,” Obama ran through such an exhaustive and expansive agenda between the two countries that any suggestion New Delhi had been relegated to the margins was pretty much dispelled after his meeting with visiting Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. A cold, bleak day in Washington that dampened the ceremonial welcome on the South Lawn of the White House and drove it indoors was cozied up by warm remarks and sentiments. It was a love-fest alright.
Lavishing praise on Singh, standing next to him at the White House presser, Obama said India would play a “pivotal role” in meeting future challenges in the world, and US-India ties will be the “defining partnership of the 21st century.” It was an expression he used more than once.
“The United States welcomes and encourages India’s leadership role in helping to shape the rise of a stable, peaceful, and prosperous Asia,” Obama said.
The word China was never mentioned once in the two appearances Obama and Singh made in the aptly named East Room (before and after their one-on-one talks), but the inference was obvious. US ties with China was entirely different from its dynamic with India, the latter based largely on ideals that are foreign to Beijing. In course of the reassurance, Obama also acknowledged implicitly, probably for the first time by Washington, that the United States historically may have erred in its approach towards Pakistan.
“There were probably times when we were just focused on the (Pakistani) military…instead of (engaging its) civil society,” he admitted, when asked about the US policy of arming Pakistan that had allowed it to become a heavily armed adversary of India.
Joining “our Indian friends in remembering the horrific attacks in Mumbai year ago,” Obama said Pakistan had to make sure it dealt effectively with extremists in its territory.
The only wrinkle in an otherwise fruitful engagement appeared to be the inability of the two sides to wrap up residual issues in the nuclear, including a fuel reprocessing agreement, which Prime Minister Singh admitted still had some Ts to be crossed and Is to be dotted.
However, in his remarks Obama said he had “reaffirmed to the Prime Minister my administration’s commitment to fully implement nuclear agreement.” But the two leaders also announced a raft of agreements, including what the US President joked would be the “appropriately-named” Obama-Singh or Singh-Obama” knowledge initiative. There were also agreements on health and agriculture.
Earlier, welcoming the Prime Minister in the East Room of the White House after the ceremonial parade had been washed out by a steady drizzle and wet underfoot conditions, Obama set at rest any doubts that he did not recognize India as a legitimate nuclear weapons state.
“As nuclear powers, we can be full partners in preventing the spread of the world’s most deadly weapons, securing loose nuclear materials from terrorists, and pursuing our shared vision of a world without nuclear weapons,” the US President declared as part of his joint agenda with India.
Obama was respectful and solicitous of his elderly guest, whom he described as “wise” and a man of honesty and integrity. Although their two joint appearances were not exactly effusive and the body language was flat, both leaders imparted weight to their promise of a major engagement in the 21st century, invoking their common history and political ideals.