Obama Honors India's Singh With State Visit

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The White House hosts India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in the first formal state visit of Barack Obama's presidency. There are talks between the two leaders Tuesday, and later a state dinner. India is becoming a major player in global affairs — one that the U.S. needs on its side when it comes to issues like climate change, trade and countering extremism in South Asia.


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

The prime minister of India was welcomed at the White House this morning. Manmohan Singh begins a round of talks, and he's getting a welcome that goes beyond the normal greeting for a foreign leader.

INSKEEP: He's invited to a lavish black-tied dinner for 400. Along with the gowns and saris, there are some hard issues here. From global warming to terrorism, the U.S. wants help from the world's largest democracy.

MONTAGNE: India faces hard issues of its own. This week, Indians are marking the anniversary of a terror attack in Mumbai. Our coverage starts with NPR's Michele Kelemen.

MICHELE KELEMEN: White House spokesman Robert Gibbs says the fact that this is the administration's first state visit shows how important India is to the U.S. Under Secretary of State William Burns put it this way when he spoke to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Under Secretary WILLIAM BURNS (State Department): Few relationships will matter more to the course of human events in the 21st century than the partnership between India and the United States. India, as all of you know very well, is a rising global power, soon to be the world's most populous country, with a trillion-dollar-plus economy.

MONTAGNE: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh brought with him some of India's wealthiest business executives, and yesterday he addressed the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, where he said the U.S. private sector has been a key part of India's transformation.

Prime Minister MANMOHAN SINGH (India): American business has played a vital role in transforming the Indo-U.S. relationship into what can today be called a strategic partnership between the world's oldest democracy and the world's largest democracy.

KELEMEN: The prime minister is expected to sign a series of agreements with the U.S. on issues ranging from clean energy to education. Still, Teresita Schaffer of the Center for Strategic and International Studies says Indians are a bit nervous about President Obama and somewhat nostalgic for his predecessor George Bush, who signed a landmark nuclear cooperation agreement with India.

Ms. TERESITA SCHAFFER (Center for Strategic and International Studies): There's a lot of business that remains to be done to really put the nuclear deal in place. And I think moving ahead on that will be a very important indicator for the Indians of whether they are on a continuity path or whether we're having to reinvent the wheel.

KELEMEN: The Indians are also worried about China's growing influence, and she says they didn't like the fact that President Obama didn't even mention India in a recent policy speech in Asia. When it comes to Pakistan, Schaffer says the Obama administration has to be discrete if it wants to ask India to renew a dialogue with its neighbor. Talks broke off after Pakistani militants were blamed for a deadly rampage in the Indian city of Mumbai last year.

Ms. SCHAFFER: I actually think that they both want to start talking. Clearly, Manmohan Singh does. Clearly, the Pakistanis do. The hang up is that India can't move forward unless there's a little bit clearer indication that Pakistan is prepared to go after the people who were mixed up in the Mumbai attacks. And for the United States to come on strong on that would probably be a mistake.

KELEMEN: The administration's special representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke, seems to have gotten that message. He told reporters yesterday that the U.S. will support India and Pakistan if they decide to start talking again.

Mr. RICHARD HOLBROOKE (U.S. Special Representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan): Of course we'll support them. But we're not their midwife. We're not their intermediaries. We're not trying to play a role that goes beyond our legitimate area of involvement.

KELEMEN: At the Council on Foreign Relations yesterday afternoon, Prime Minister Singh made clear that the ball is in Pakistan's court.

Prime Minister SINGH: Pakistan must make a break with the past, adjourn terrorism and come 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 our subcontinent.

KELEMEN: And as for Afghanistan, Prime Minister Singh is appealing to the U.S. and its partners to stay, arguing that a premature exit will only embolden the extremists in the region and beyond.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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