President Barack Obama says the United States could be India’s “best partner” but urges his hosts to do more in the battle against climate change as he wraps up a three-day visit to New Delhi. Duration: 00:47
Obama says US and India can be 'best partners'
Obama wraps India visit with pleas on climate, religion
/ New Delhi (India) – 27 January 2015 15:51 – AFP (Trudy HARRIS) / WRAP – UPDATE
President Barack Obama said the United States could be India’s “best partner” Tuesday but urged his hosts to do more in the battle against climate change as he wrapped up a three-day visit to New Delhi.
Speaking to an audience of mainly young people, the US president said their countries could forge “one of the defining partnerships of this century” but warned the war against climate change would not “stand a chance” without India and also fired a warning about religious tolerance.
The speech was the finale of a packed visit which has seen a dramatic upturn in an often troubled relationship, including the signing of a new “friendship” pact between Obama and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The right-wing premier was a pariah in Washington less than a year ago but has developed a close bond with Obama, with their two countries keen to counter-balance the rise of China.
“India and the United States are not just natural partners — I believe that America can be India’s best partner,” said Obama after receiving a rapturous welcome from a group of around 1,500 people.
“Of course, only Indians can decide India’s role in the world. But I’m here because I am absolutely convinced that both our peoples will have more jobs and opportunity, our nations will be more secure, and the world will be a safer and more just place when our two democracies stand together.”
– Leaders’ rapport –
Both Obama and Modi have been at pains to demonstrate their personal rapport during the visit and announced a breakthrough on a long-stalled nuclear power deal on Sunday.
Obama was also chief guest at Monday’s Republic Day parade — one of the biggest honours that India can bestow on a foreign leader.
The US is looking to reinvigorate alliances in the Asia-Pacific as part of Obama’s “pivot” east, and has taken note of Modi’s more assertive stance towards China.
Beijing claims sovereignty over large swathes of the South China Sea, home to maritime lanes that are vital to global trade, and is engaged in territorial disputes with a host of nations in the region.
But in his speech, Obama said “the freedom of navigation must be upheld and disputes must be resolved peacefully”.
Speaking after their talks on Sunday, Modi said he would not be pressured on climate by any country — comments seen in part as aimed at China after it agreed on new carbon emissions targets with the US.
But Obama warned the battle against climate change was doomed unless developing countries reduce dependence on fossil fuels.
“I know the argument made by some, that it’s unfair for countries like the United States to ask developing nations and emerging economies like India to reduce your dependence on the same fossil fuels that helped power our growth for more than a century,” Obama said.
“But here’s the truth: even if countries like the United States curb our emissions, if growing countries like India — with soaring energy needs — don’t also embrace cleaner fuels, then we don’t stand a chance against climate change.”
India has balked at committing itself to major cuts in carbon emissions ahead of a December climate summit, fearing they would undermine efforts to boost living standards in a country where many of the 1.2 billion population live in poverty.
Arun Varma, an official in India’s environment ministry who was in the audience, applauded Obama’s comments, saying India has a lot to learn from America’s environmental policies.
“Not just their efforts on reducing carbon emissions, but their protection of forests, of endangered animals, and of all of their natural resources including their waters,” he told AFP.
– ‘Splinter’ warning –
The speech also contained an entreaty for people to respect one another’s religion in India, where the election of Hindu nationalist Modi has given rise to fears among the country’s large Muslim minority.
“India will succeed so long as it is not splintered along lines of religious faith, so long as it is not splintered along any lines,” said Obama.
Modi was treated as persona non grata in Washington for over a decade after deadly communal riots in Gujarat when he was state chief minister in 2002. Around 1,000 people were killed, mostly Muslims.
Obama and his wife Michelle spent 10 minutes mingling after the speech, shaking hands and posing for selfies as the crowd chanted “Obama, Obama”.
The scenes underlined the turnaround in ties after a row involving the arrest and strip-search of an Indian diplomat in New York in 2013, which saw the Stars and Stripes being burned on the streets of Delhi.
Obama had been due to visit the Taj Mahal with Michelle Tuesday, but the trip was cut short after the death of the former Saudi king.