Obama hails ties with "world power' India

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US President Barack Obama on Monday hailed deeper and closer ties with his host India, which he said had established itself as a world power and a natural US ally on the global stage.

Obama heaped praise on the country and its Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the end of a three-day trip, which saw a raft of commercial deals signed and agreements to cooperate more closely in agriculture, health and energy.

The president said that the principles of democracy and human rights were too often ignored around the world, which was riven with conflicts and misunderstandings between nations.

"For our two countries to be able stand together to promote these principles in international forums, I think can be incredibly powerful and incredibly important," he said at a joint press conference with Singh.

Previously, Obama had described India as "indispensable" and a cornerstone of US policy in Asia, where analysts say the democratic South Asia giant is seen as a counterweight to increasingly assertive and authoritarian China.

Obama's courtship of India reflects the rapid growth in the country's economy and a shift in power to emerging nations as a result of the global financial crisis, which has hit Western powers hard.

Singh, who enjoys a friendly relationship with Obama, said the allies would now enjoy a relationship of "equal partners", while the US president said earlier Monday that India was now "a world power."

"We have decided to accelerate the deepening of ties to work as equal partners in a strategic relationship," Singh told the press conference.

Obama said he would address a key demand of New Delhi later in a speech at the Indian parliament -- India's aspiration to win a permanent seat on the UN Security Council.

The US backs the move in principle but has so far remained non-committal on the question of timing.

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

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 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.

Inevitably, given US engagement in Afghanistan and its close relationship with India's regional rival Pakistan, Obama was asked about the role Washington could play in bringing stability to conflict-ridden South Asia.

The disputed region of Kashmir is at the centre of strained relations between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan, who have fought two wars since 1947 over the divided Muslim-majority province.

"I believe both Pakistan and India have an interest in reducing tensions between the two countries," Obama said, before adding: "The United States cannot impose a solution on these problems."

India rejects any outside mediation in its relations with Pakistan and particularly over Kashmir, and had been alarmed during Obama's White House election campaign when he spoke of US involvement.

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

India has been keen to stress the role Indian companies play in creating jobs in the US market amid growing fears in the US that domestic jobs are being outsourced.

"India is not in the business of stealing jobs from the United States of America," Singh said. "Outsourcing has helped improve the capacity and productivity of American industry."

On Tuesday, Obama travels to his childhood home in Indonesia, before heading to the G20 summit in Seoul and the APEC gathering of Asia-Pacific leaders in Japan.

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