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Obama hails 'great friend' Singh, India ties

29 september 2013, 22:44
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Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (L) shakes hands with US President Barack Obama. ©AFP
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (L) shakes hands with US President Barack Obama. ©AFP
US President Barack Obama on Friday hailed Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as a "great friend," saluting his role in the warming of ties between the world's two largest democracies, AFP reports.

Singh, who has led India since 2004, paid what will likely be his last official visit to the White House as he is seen as unlikely to run for a third term in next year's election.

The two leaders agreed to shore up cooperation on areas of occasional concern including Afghanistan, market access and immigration.

But it was largely a valedictory visit for Singh, who earlier developed a warm relationship with president George W. Bush that led to a landmark nuclear accord.

"He has been a great friend and partner to the United States and to me personally during his tenure as prime minister of India," Obama said as he met Singh in the Oval Office.

"What we've been able to do during the time that I've been president and certainly preceding me -- throughout Prime Minister Singh's tenure -- is to try to make sure that our government-to-government cooperation matches the great affection and affinity that exists between the Indian and American peoples," Obama said.

Singh -- increasingly battered by corruption scandals, a slowing of India's economic growth and a weakening rupee -- also stressed the warming of relations throughout his nearly decade in office.

"I've always believed that India and America are indispensable partners," Singh said.

"India and America are working together to give our cooperation a new sense of purpose, widening and deepening in diverse directions," he said.

In a joint statement, the United States and India committed to cooperation on a "smooth security and political transition" in Afghanistan, where US combat forces are due to withdraw next year.

India was an enthusiastic supporter of the US-led invasion in 2001 that toppled Afghanistan's Taliban regime, which supported Islamic extremists who are virulently anti-Indian.

Obama and Singh in their statement also "strongly condemned" a raid by militants Thursday on a police station in Indian Kashmir that killed 10.

The chief minister of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir said that the attack was aimed at derailing talks between India and Pakistan, which also controls part of the Himalayan territory.

Skeptics say that the warm relationship between the United States and India has produced little, with the two nations still not fully implementing the showcase of cooperation spearheaded by Bush -- an accord on civilian nuclear energy.

The two leaders pointed to progress on the first project under the deal -- a Westinghouse nuclear plant in the western state of Gujarat. US nuclear companies have been demanding greater protection from liabilities in the event of an accident in India.

India is meanwhile alarmed that visa reforms in a proposed US immigration bill in Congress could disproportionately punish its thriving information technology and software sectors.

The Obama administration offered to talk to India about joining the Global Entry program, which allows trusted frequent travelers to move more quickly at airports.

Obama has seen improving ties with New Delhi as a centerpiece of his strategy of shifting US economic and diplomatic resources to Asia, and views India's vibrant democracy as a kindred national spirit to the United States in a region where political freedoms can be fleeting.

Obama hosted Singh for the first state dinner of his presidency in 2009 and paid his own state visit to India a year later. Vice President Joe Biden was in India in June and a long string of US cabinet-level officials have trekked to the country.

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