New Delhi – President Barack Obama on Monday explicitly endorsed India’s longstanding hopes of securing a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, an influential endorsement that could rankle India’s neighbors in Pakistan and China.
In an address Monday evening to India’s parliament, Obama vowed “in the years ahead” to back “a reformed U.N. Security Council that includes India as a permanent member.”
While India’s aspirations still face an uphill battle in securing the coveted post, Obama’s direct endorsement offered the South Asian economic powerhouse powerful backing for the fight ahead.
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Indian leaders have long sought American support for their country’s addition to the five-member permanent members able to veto resolutions. And the move marks the second time that Obama has specifically backed another nation looking to secure a seat on the council. The other country was Japan.
U.S. officials conceded it could be years before India, now a rotating, non-permanent member of the council, gets such status.
Nonetheless, the endorsement gives India a recognition it seeks as a rising global power and Obama may try to leverage that backing for cooperation on foreign policy and economic goals including on stances against Iran.
Other pivotal U.N. members, including China, have long resisted India’s ambitions.
But Obama’s backing for India could put China in a difficult spot. Chinese leaders have been competing with the United States for greater economic influence in India.
Along with China and the United States, France, the United Kingdom and Russia are the only members of the United Nations Security Council with the veto power of permanent residents.
India is poised to join the Security Council in January as one of 10 member countries that serve two year terms on the body.
Obama’s endorsement came in the waning hours of his three-day visit to India, his first overseas trip since American voters upended Democratic control of the House of Representatives and sent a political message of discontent to the U.S. president.
Earlier in the day, Obama defended the Federal Reserve’s plan to inject $600 billion into the U.S. economy as he wrapped up his trip to India and looked ahead to this week’s G-20 economic summit, saying stalled U.S. growth is “the worst thing that could happen to the world’s economy.”
At a joint news conference with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at Hyderabad House, Obama also summed up the political risks for him in spending three days in India days after elections in which Democrats lost control of the House of Representatives.
“I want to be able to say to the American people when they ask me ‘Well why are you spending time with India, aren’t they talking our jobs?‚’ I want to be able to say, actually, you know what, they just created 50,000 jobs and that’s why we shouldn’t be resorting to protectionist measures.”
Obama said the United States wants improved relations between the India and Pakistan, over Kashmir, terrorism and other concerns, and would be willing to play any appropriate role to assist, but said “the United States cannot impose a solution to these problems.”
Singh dampened any immediate prospects, however, saying, “You cannot simultaneously be talking and at the same time the terror machine is as active as ever before. Once Pakistan moves away from this terror induced question we will be very happy to engage productively with Pakistan.”
Singh also defended India’s economic goals, saying, “India is not in the business of stealing jobs from the United States of America.” The Indian leader said his nation’s outsourcing industry has helped to improve U.S. companies‚ productivity. He said the new trade deals struck in connection with Obama’s visit to India largely revolved around infrastructure and that India’s infrastructure challenges are the biggest “bottleneck” to his nation’s growth. He called the expanded trade a “win-win” for both nations.
Obama will address the Indian parliament and attend a state dinner later today. He leaves Tuesday for Indonesia.