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How Obama turned his visit into a historic one

November 10, 2010 11:14 IST

President Barack Obama's visit to India was propelled from important to historic the moment he declared his administration's support for India's bid for a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council, two former US administration officials have said.

Karl F Inderfurth, who was Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs in the Clinton administration, and Nicholas Burns, who was Under Secretary of State in the Bush Administration, told that Obama's endorsement during his address to a joint session of Parliament thus made his visit to India transformational too in a sense as had the trip by Clinton in March of 2000 and Bush in March 2006.

Clinton's visit was the first by a US president to India in 22 years and Bush's trip cemented the US-India civilian nuclear deal he had initiated during his second term.

Inderfurth, now professor of international relations at George Washington University, said, "As soon as I heard the news that President Obama had endorsed India's bid for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council, I was absolutely delighted because that ship had finally come in."

A senior foreign policy adviser on South Asia for Obama during his presidential campaign, Inderfurth, who has over the years consistently and strongly argued that the US should support India's candidacy for permanent membership in the Security Council, said Obama's endorsement was 'a bold move because this was something his predecessors had not been able to announce for a variety of reasons'.

"The trip will now rank in the same pantheon of visits by President Clinton and President Bush and his (Obama's) announcement of US support for India's permanent seat on the Security Council moved this from being a very important trip to a historic one."

Inderfurth predicted, "India will look back on this as being a milestone in our relationship, just as they did with the nuclear agreement under President Bush and President Clinton's trip in 2000, which was transformational in that it came after 22 years."

"So, to use an American baseball expression as opposed to cricket, this was a home run," he said.

Burns, now professor of the Practice of Diplomacy and International Politics at Harvard University, said Obama's endorsement "is a visionary step."

Terming the President's trip to India "a very successful visit," Burns said, "He managed to provide both energy and ambition for the future of this very important relationship. Specifically, the defense agreements, the decision on export controls and the announcement of support for India's permanent membership in the UN Security Council, will all bring India and the US to a closer strategic partnership."

He said that Obama's support for future Indian permanent membership in the Security Council "is particularly important," because the "current Security Council membership represents the world balance of power of 1945 -- the year the UN was founded."

Burns argued that "to manage the many global threats that are at the core of the present global environment -- from nuclear proliferation to terrorism to climate change -- requires that the rising powers such as India take on greater responsibility for global stability, security and peace."

And, he said it was a no-brainer that "as one of the world's great democracies, India is well placed to become a permanent member of the Security Council."

Inderfurth said when Obama "said in his speech that India is not simply emerging, India has emerged, it captured the spirit of his address, bring India into a full partnership with the United States and the international community."

"And, in doing so, the decision not only to support India's bid for a permanent seat in the Security Council, but also bringing in India and supporting India for a place on these export control regimes -- the Nuclear Suppliers Group, the Missile Technology Control Regime -- all of which are a part of making India a full-scale stakeholder in the international community," he said.

Both Inderfurth and Burns agreed that now that this endorsement had been made, it was easier said than done in terms of pushing for India to be accepted as a permanent member in the Security Council, because it has to be preceded by Security Council reform, which includes its expansion.

Inderfurth said, "This will take some time, there is no question that the effort to reform and expand the Security Council has been going on for many years. I was a part of it when I was at the United Nations from 1993 to 1997 and it will take time, but it is very clear that the support of the United States for a country for a permanent seat will carry weight in the reform movement."

Considering that India in now a non-permanent member of the Security Council, Burns said, Washington being incentivised to put its full diplomatic weight behind New Delhi's candidacy, would also "require, however, that India begin to work more closely and amicably on these very challenges with the US and others."

Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC