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India indispensable to a future we want to build: Obama

We have created a partnership that is based on principle and pragmatism, says Manmohan

Washington: United States President Barack Obama on Tuesday warmly welcomed Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, telling him that India was “indispensable” to a future “we want to build.”

Mr. Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama personally received Dr. Singh, the first State Guest of the 10-month-old Obama Administration, and his wife Gursharan Kaur at the White House.

“Yours is the first official state visit of my presidency, it’s fitting that you and India be so recognised,” Mr. Obama told the Prime Minister.

He said: “we want to build a future in which India is indispensable. India and the U.S. can strengthen the global economic recovery. 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.”

On his part, Dr. Singh said, “We should cooperate in addressing global challenges of combating terrorism, making our environment cleaner, and moving towards a world free of nuclear weapons.”

The ceremonial welcome, which was planned at the White House lawns, had to be shifted to the sprawling mansion due to rain. A 19-gun salute was given to Dr. Singh.

As Dr. Singh, dressed in a black “bandgala” and his signature blue turban, and Mr. Obama, attired in a formal black suit, walked in together into the East Room of the mansion, a Marine Band played the national anthems of both nations.

Ms. Michelle Obama accompanied Ms. Kaur for the ceremony.

From the U.S. side, Vice-President Joseph Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, U.S. Ambassador to India Timothy Roemer and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel were present. India was represented by External Affairs S.M. Krishna, IT adviser Sam Pitroda, Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao and Indian envoy to the U.S. Meera Shankar.

From the corporate world, Ratan Tata, Sunil Mittal, Chanda Kochhar, Deepak Parekh, Kiran Majumdar-Shaw attended the ceremony, among others.

“This visit reflects the high esteem in which I and the American people hold your wise leadership. It reflects the abiding bonds of respect and friendship between our people, including our friends in the Indian-American community, who join us here today,” Mr. Obama said.

Noting that India and the U.S. shared a “common story” of two “proud people,” who struggled to break free from an empire and declare their independence, Mr. Obama pointed out that they were two great republics dedicated to ideals of liberty, justice, equality, and the “never-ending work of perfecting their union.”

Dr. Singh said though India and America were “separated by distance,” they were bound together by the values of democracy, humanism, rule of law, and respect of fundamental human freedoms. “Over the years, we have built upon these values and created a partnership that is based upon both principle and pragmatism. Our relations have been transformed, and today they encompass cooperation in all areas of human activity.”

He said, “I’ve come today to build upon these successes and to strengthen our multi-faceted relationship,” he said adding, India sought to broaden and deepen the strategic partnership and to work with the U.S. to meet the challenges of a fast-changing world in this 21st century.

“Pakistan must abjure violence”

At an interaction at the Council on Foreign Relations — an American non-profit and non-partisan membership organisation, Dr. Singh denounced Pakistan’s “selective” approach in the fight against terrorism, and said he did not want to speculate about India’s response in the event of another 26/11-type attack.

He, however, indicated India’s readiness to resume dialogue with Pakistan provided it abjured terrorism and came to the table with “good faith and sincerity.”

“It is my solemn hope that India and Pakistan can together move forward to write a new chapter in the history of the sub-continent...I have said that we are ready to pick up the threads of the dialogue, including on issues related to Jammu and Kashmir.”

Asked about the reference to India-Pakistan relations in the recent joint statement issued by the U.S. and China after talks in Beijing between Mr. Obama and Hu Jintao, he said, “What happens between President Obama and President Hu is not our direct concern“.

Asked about China’s economic growth, the Prime Minister said there was no doubt that its performance was superior to that of India.

But he hastened to add that he would not like to choose the Chinese path and instead stick to the one pursued by India.

Dr. Singh said:

“There are several dimensions to human freedom, which are not always caught by the numbers with regard to the GDP. So I do believe that even though Indian performance with regard to GDP might not be as good as the Chinese, certainly I would not like to choose the Chinese path. I would like to stick to Indian path.

“No doubt the Chinese growth performance is superior to India’s growth performance. But I always believe that there are other values that are important than the growth of GDP – respect for fundamental human rights, respect for rule of law, respect for multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-religious rights.”

He said India might seem to be indecisive at times, but “once democracy decides on the basis of wide-ranging consensus, any reforms that are undertaken will be far more durable, far more effective than the reforms introduced by the writ of ruling group in a non-democratic set-up.”

At the same time, he said world should be prepared for “peaceful rise of China as a major power” and “so engagement is the right strategy both for India as well as the U.S.”

Dr. Singh said India had taken note of “certain amount of assertiveness” by China lately. Coming against the backdrop of China’s statements on Arunachal Pradesh and other issues, he, however, said he did not “fully understand” the reasons for its actions. — PTI

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