US president issues declaration of support for permanent Indian membership of UN security council in Delhi
President Barack Obama today declared American backing for Indian membership of the United Nations security council in a warmly received speech in parliament in Delhi.
“The just and sustainable international order that America seeks includes a United Nations that is efficient, effective, credible and legitimate,” Obama, on the last evening of a four-day trip to India, said. “That is why I can say today … in the years ahead, I look forward to a reformed UN security council that includes India as a permanent member.”
The Indian media welcomed the statement. However, while senior US officials described the statement as “a full endorsement”, Obama did not go as far as saying that the US would actively push for a UN security council seat for India. It is also broadly acknowledged that any enlargement of the UN security council would be immensely complex, subject to the vetoes of major rivals to India such as China and could take many decades.
Brahma Chellaney, professor of strategic studies at the Centre for Policy Research in Delhi, said Obama’s statement had been “couched in such careful and so hedged by conditions terms” that it was “not really a genuine assurance”. “These kind of complexities are all going to be lost in the media reaction. In India we have a tendency to believe the hype,” he said.
In a long and polished speech full of references to Indian culture and history, Obama reiterated his early description of India as “having emerged” on to the world stage.
However, the president spelt out that “responsibility” comes with leadership, criticising Indian support for the Burmese junta and Delhi’s repeated failure to vocally oppose human rights abuses in the south Asian region. He also called for India to fulfil its responsibility as a “world power” to limit nuclear proliferation, to open its economy and to assure an equitable distribution of wealth, health and opportunity among its own population.
Though India’s total wealth has increased enormously in recent decades so has inequality.
“It was masterly. The speech massaged Indian egos so much that they even enjoyed being given a headmasterly scolding,” Chellaney said. Obama received 25 separate rounds of applause from MPs.
In words which will play well among Indian diplomats concerned that the White House sees China as the dominant player in the region, Obama also called on India to “partner” America “in Asia”. “We want India to not only ‘look east’ but to ‘engage east’,” he said.
Indian officials will also be happy that, though Obama stopped short of naming the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Toiba militant group, he did call on Islamabad to bring the perpetrators of the 2008 Mumbai attacks to justice and to eliminate “terrorist safe havens” which he called “unacceptable”.
The speech was the climax of a visit that has so far seen few major surprises but much enthusiastic rhetoric. The American focus has explicitly been on jobs and the economy, with an estimated £6bn ($10bn) of deals signed with American businessmen accompanying the president.
In a joint press conference this afternoon, the Indian prime minister, Manmohan Singh, said the assistance of the US was essential if India was to achieve the growth rates that would be needed to lift hundreds of millions of its citizens out of poverty. In his speech, Obama, whose party suffered a heavy defeat in midterm elections in the US last week, reiterated pledges to ease export controls affecting trade between the world’s two largest democracies.
There was however no comparison with the 2006 visit of then President George Bush which saw a landmark nuclear deal signed.
In the morning Obama and his wife, Michelle, visited Raj Ghat where the body of Mahatma Gandhi, who the president has described as an inspiration, was cremated. In a sunken grassy courtyard decorated with flowers where a flame flickered inside low marble walls, sitar music played for a wreath-laying ceremony. Later Michelle Obama spent two hours at the National Handicrafts and Handlooms Museum. The first lady bought terracotta statues of Indian deities, textiles and embroidered mobile phone holders as Christmas gifts.
America’s first couple have proved very popular with an initially sceptical public. “They are really relaxed. They smile and talk to people and even dance with children. They are not like our politicians,” said Raj Vij, a 44-year-old vegetable seller in south Delhi’s Lajpat Nagar neighbourhood.
Obama is due to arrive in Jakarta, Indonesia, for the next leg of his 10-day Asian tour tomorrow before travelling to South Korea on Wednesday and Japan on Friday.