NEW DELHI // Barack Obama yesterday endorsed India's bid for a permanent seat on an expanded UN Security Council in a move that reflects the Asian nation's growing global clout.
India for years has said that as a nation of more than a billion people with a trillion-dollar economy it deserves its place at the top table. Yesterday, in a speech to the parliament of the world's largest democracy, the US president agreed.
"I look forward to a reformed UN Security Council that includes India as a permanent member," he said in an address in which he also praised Mahatma Gandhi, father of Indian independence.
The idea of a permanent seat is likely to face resistance from some of the council's other permanent members - Britain, France, Russia and, not least, regional rival China. Neighbouring Pakistan also said it hoped the US would not be swayed by "power politics" in its support for a council seat for India.
The endorsement nevertheless serves as a powerful symbol of India's growing international stature, and to rapturous applause from Indian MPs, Mr Obama acknowledged that stature. He praised India's contribution to UN peacekeeping forces around the world, while at the same time saying that "with great power comes great responsibility".
UN resolutions and sanctions should be implemented and enforced by emerging world powers such as India, Mr Obama said, urging New Delhi to use its extensive ties abroad to help to stop the spread of nuclear weapons.
"We can make it clear that even as every nation has the right to peaceful nuclear energy, every nation must also meet its international obligations - and that includes the Islamic republic of Iran," he said.
During his three days in India, the longest stay in any foreign country during his presidency, the US leader has avoided mention of alleged Pakistani involvement in the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
Yesterday, however, he addressed the threat of al Qa'eda from India's neighbour and rival.
"We will continue to insist to Pakistan's leaders that terrorist safe havens within their borders are unacceptable, and that the terrorists behind the Mumbai attacks be brought to justice," he said.
Amid talk of terrorism, nuclear weapons proliferation and geopolitics, Mr Obama paid tribute to Gandhi and the profound personal impact of the advocate of non-violent change.
"Throughout my life, including my work as a young man on behalf of the urban poor, I have always found inspiration in the life of Gandhiji and in his simple and profound lesson to be the change we seek in the world," he said.
"I am mindful that I might not be standing before you today, as president of the United States, had it not been for Gandhi and the message he shared with America and the world," he added.
Earlier, Mr Obama addressed the delicate issue of Kashmir, the predominantly Muslim region claimed by both India and Pakistan. He encouraged New Delhi and Islamabad to work to settle their differences over the region and said the US would not intervene.
"The US cannot impose solutions to these problems," he said. Manmohan Singh, the Indian prime minister, said his country would not shy from dialogue with Pakistan over Kashmir. "India is not afraid of the 'K' word in discussions with Pakistan,"
Mr Singh told reporters at a news conference with Mr Obama. "We are not afraid of talks with Pakistan. You cannot be talking at the same time and simultaneously the terror machine is active as ever before. India is committed to resolving all problems with Pakistan but simultaneously Pakistan should ensure that it moves away from terror-induced coercion. We will be happy to engage productively."
During his stay in India, Mr Obama has announced $10 billion in business deals, aimed at reassuring voters at home that countries such as India offer benefits for US jobs rather than causing unemployment through outsourcing.
Yesterday, Mr Singh also said the two sides had agreed to take steps to expand cooperation in defence, space and peaceful nuclear development. The issue of outsourcing remains controversial.
The usually polite Indian premier bluntly addressed the issue. "India is not in the business of stealing jobs of the United States of America," he said. "I believe the Indian outsourcing industry has helped to improve the productive capacity and productivity of American industry."
Yesterday morning Mr Obama was given a ceremonial welcome at the Indian president's palace, where he thanked Indians for their "extraordinary hospitality". "We took this trip to strengthen an already existing relationship between the two countries," Mr Obama said.
"We share a core set of values. We will build the commercial ties, and a bilateral relationship in the international economy." Last night Mr Obama and his wife, Michelle, attended a dinner hosted by the president of India, Pratibha Patil. Barack Obama yesterday endorsed India’s bid for a permanent seat on an expanded UN Security Council in a move that reflects the Asian nation’s growing global clout.They leave today to continue their 10-day tour of Asia, with stops that include Indonesia, South Korea and Japan.
* With additional reporting by Agence France-Presse and Reuters