Obama Backs India Seat on U.N. Security Council

U.S. President Barack Obama addresses the Indian Parliament in New Delhi on November 8, 2010. President Obama backed India for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, recognizing its rise as a great power, in a significant victory for New Delhi's foreign policy.
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Last Updated 2:42 p.m. ET

President Barack Obama backed India for a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council Monday, a dramatic diplomatic gesture to his hosts as he wrapped up his first visit to this burgeoning nation.

Mr. Obama made the announcement in a speech to India's parliament on the third and final day of his visit. In doing so, he fulfilled what was perhaps India's dearest wish for the president's trip here. India has been pushing for permanent Security Council membership for years.

"The just and sustainable international order that America seeks includes a United Nations that is efficient, effective, credible and legitimate," President Obama said. "That is why I can say today - in the years ahead, I look forward to a reformed U.N. Security Council that includes India as a permanent member."

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The announcement brought the loudest applause of Mr. Obama's speech. But it does not mean that India will join the five permanent Security Council members anytime soon.

"President Obama's support for India to become a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council is largely symbolic since it would involve a revision to the Charter," said CBS News foreign affairs analyst Pamela Falk from the U.N. Such reforms could take years to bring about.

That makes Mr. Obama's announcement more a diplomatic gesture than a concrete step. Nonetheless, it underscores the importance the U.S. places on fostering ties with this nation of 1.2 billion people, something the president has been seeking to accomplish throughout his time here.

But the pronouncement also creates bigger diplomatic wrangling, says Falk, "since Germany, Japan, South Africa, Brazil and Nigeria - in addition to the Arab League - are looking for an overhaul that would be more in line with world powers today."

"The President's call for India's new role in the U.N. Security Council appears to be part of a larger package of better relations, in line with the Obama administration's interest in creating new U.S. jobs," Falk added, "but it may complicate relations with other allies at a particularly difficult time, particularly Pakistan."

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The president was also pointed in his remarks, alluding to unrest over recent elections in Burma. "When peaceful democratic movements are suppressed, as in Burma, then the democracies of the world cannot remain silent," he said.

"For it is unacceptable to gun down peaceful protestors and incarcerate political prisoners decade after decade. It is unacceptable to hold the aspirations of an entire people hostage to the greed and paranoia of a bankrupt regime. It is unacceptable to steal an election, as the regime in Burma has done again for all the world to see.

"Faced with such gross violations of human rights, it is the responsibility of the international community - especially leaders like the United States and India - to condemn it. If I can be frank, in international fora, India has often avoided these issues. But speaking up for those who cannot do so for themselves is not interfering in the affairs of other countries. It's not violating the rights of sovereign nations. It's staying true to our democratic principles."

Mr. Obama also said today that he was ready to play "any role" requested by India and Pakistan to foster peace between them as he moved delicately to address tensions between the nuclear-armed neighbors.

On the third and final day of his trip to India, Mr. Obama said that while both India and Pakistan have an interest in reducing tensions in the region, the U.S. "cannot impose a solution to these problems."

"We are happy to play any role the parties think is appropriate," President Obama said at a joint news conference with India's Prime Minister Manmoham Singh.

Muslim-dominated Pakistan and Hindu-majority India have gone to war before and still hold deep suspicions. Indian officials accuse Pakistan's intelligence service of helping orchestrate the 2008 Mumbai attacks that killed 166 people and say Islamabad has not done enough to crack down on the Pakistan-based extremists held responsible.

Pakistan views India's ties with the U.S.-backed government in Afghanistan as an effort by its old rival to encircle it.

President Obama treaded carefully when asked about what role the U.S. could play in resolving India and Pakistan's long-standing dispute over Kashmir, a Himalayan region where rebels have sought independence from India or incorporation with Pakistan. The president quickly sought to broaden his answer, saying a reduction in tensions would not only benefit the region, but also the security of the U.S.

Kashmir has been the main source of friction between the nuclear-armed neighbors since they won independence from Britain in 1947. Pakistan has frequently sought outside intervention to resolve it but India vehemently opposes such involvement, and the United States has traditionally stayed above the fray. President Obama declined to veer from that stance.

Singh said that while he believes a strong, moderate Pakistan is in the interest of India and the wider region, India can't engage in talks as long as Pakistan's "terror machine is as active as ever before." However, he deflected a reporter's question about whether he would call Pakistan a terrorist state.

Singh is seen as a driving force behind Indian efforts to make peace with Pakistan. He called off peace talks following the November 2008 Mumbai attacks, carried out by Pakistani militants, but was generally restrained in his reaction and never threatened military retaliation. The two countries have resumed periodic "trust-building" talks between foreign ministers and foreign secretaries in recent months.

After the news conference, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi reiterated that his country was willing to talk to India and was committed to eliminating terrorism and dismantling any networks operating from his country.

"We condemn terrorism. We do not and will not allow Pakistani soil to be used against anyone and that includes India," he told India's CNN-IBN news channel. "We have taken considerable steps in the last two years to deal with this situation."

President Obama's three-day stop in India is the longest amount of time he's spent in a foreign country since taking office.

The president praised the relationship between the U.S. and India as one of the "defining partnerships of the 21st century." He and Singh said they would co-host an international education summit next year and said the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and India's Ministry of Home Affairs would collaborate to combat terrorism by improving security at airports and seaports.

President Obama also said the U.S. will continue to share intelligence with India. And Singh said his country would establish new centers to focus more attention on the issues of nuclear proliferation and disease.

The leaders also reaffirmed their pledges of newfound economic cooperation, including moves by the United States to ease export controls affecting trade between the world's two largest democracies.

Speaking to the sensitivity about high unemployment in the U.S., Singh said at one point that his country "is not in the business of stealing jobs from America."

President Obama said in response to a question: "I don't think India is emerging. It has emerged."

CBS News chief White House correspondent Chip Reid reports that Mr. Obama stressed his top goal on this visit: Opening the surging Indian economy to U.S. products

"I want to be able to say to the American people, when they ask, 'Why are you spending time with India, aren't they taking our jobs?' I want to be able to say, 'They just created 50,000 jobs" in the U.S. - the result of more than 20 trade deals between India and American corporations announced by the president this weekend.

Mr. Obama's final day in India began with a grand welcome ceremony at Rashtrapati Bhavan, the palatial residence of India's president. Guards on horseback led Obama's limousine up the red clay driveway leading to the residence, where Obama was greeted by Indian dignitaries. He stood with his hand on his heart as a military band played the U.S. national anthem.

Following the arrival ceremony, President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama placed a wreath at Raj Ghat, a memorial to Mohandas Gandhi. As a sign of respect, the Obamas removed their shoes before placing a large white wreath on a flower-covered tablet in front of an eternal flame.

Later Monday, President Obama planned to speak to the Indian Parliament, with announcements expected on counterterrorism, regional security, clean energy, climate change and economic growth.

Hanging over Obama's 10-day trip to Asia are heavy election losses at home. On Sunday, President Obama promised to make "midcourse corrections" to reinvigorate his embattled domestic agenda in the face of a testier American public and more combative Congress.

Domestic politics came up not in response to a question from a Washington reporter but rather an Indian college student, who told Obama: "It seems that the American people have asked for a change."

The president agreed that people vented their frustration about the economy by sacking many incumbents.

A "healthy thing," he said, even though his Democratic Party suffered, losing control of one of the chambers in Congress. He said he would not retreat on spending money for energy and education, and offered no specific policy changes.

More on President Obama's Asia Trip:

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Obama Hears Child's Lecture on Smoking
Obama Pursues Improved Cooperation with India
Michelle Obama Sings, Dances With Kids In India
Obama Announces $10B in Trade Deals With India
U.S. CEOs Lay Groundwork for Obama India Trip