Indian PM Becomes President Obama's First State Guest

Talks are expected to provide opportunities and challenges

India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh becomes US President Barack Obama's first state guest during a three-day visit to Washington beginning November 23. New Delhi will be looking to see if Mr. Obama wants to sustain the deepened relationship forged under former president George Bush. In  Washington, observers say Mr. Singh is pushing for broader ties with Western economies. 

From counterterrorism to the US strategy in Afghanistan, from global warming to nuclear non-proliferation, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and U.S. President Barack Obama are expected to cover a range of issues, says India's ambassador to Washington, Meera Shankar. "Security, economic, political and development issues. Then there are regional challenges on which both countries have concerns and surely they will exchange perspectives and views," he said.

President Obama sees the two countries working together for the betterment of the world, says Undersecretary of State William Burns. "Our scientists solving environmental challenges together, our doctors discovering medicines, our engineers advancing our societies, our entrepreneurs generating prosperity, our educators laying the foundation for future generations, and our governments working together to advance peace, prosperity and stability," he said.

But South Asia observers say the talks could be challenging because India is a rival of China and Pakistan. Both are U.S. priorities.

During President Obama's visit to China, Indians watched carefully. Tension over a border dispute between New Delhi and Beijing has escalated in recent weeks.

India is concerned that the U.S. is encouraging China to take a more active role in South Asia. The joint US-China statement at the end of President Obama's visit to Beijing urged China to promote peace between India and Pakistan.

Indian foreign ministry officials point to China's close relationship with Pakistan.

Indian analyst Raja Mohan is a foreign policy scholar at the Library of Congress. He shares India's concern. "There is a danger here of seeing South Asia or India through the prism of China, and I would caution against it," he said.

The U.S. also wants to limit India's role in Afghanistan because of Pakistani sensitivities, says Mohan. "My sense is whether it is counter-terrorism cooperation, whether it is India's role in Afghanistan, how much more it can do, all this is being constrained in the US mind, that should we let India do more in Afghanistan, will Pakistan get upset?"

Mohan says defining India's role this way is dangerous because US staying power in Afghanistan is not open-ended.

And that could have a long term impact, says Teresita Schaffer at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "There is a great uneasiness (in New Delhi) about the possibilities that the US wouldn't be there, and therefore there will not be any counter-weight to Pakistani influence in Afghanistan," he said.

And Pakistan's reluctance to deal with the terror group Lashkar-e-Taiba remains a problem for India. The terror attacks last year in Mumbai that killed 160 people were blamed on the Pakistan-based group.

Ashley Tellis, a scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, says India is bound to raise the issue.  "Whether the US is committed to combating terrorism not only in respect of groups that affect its own interests, but also (what affects) Indian security," she said.

Experts say the US and India will also try to work on their differences over global warming and international trade.

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