WASHINGTON: The White House insisted Wednesday that its bid to court India would not come at the expense of Pakistan, or vice versa, a week before President Barack Obama heads to Mumbai and New Delhi.
Tensions have been high in recent weeks between Washington and its anti-terror ally, but officials said that Obama decided to bypass Pakistan on the forthcoming trip purely to devote "proper" time to a visit in 2011.
"The president believes that the US relationship with India and the US relationship with Pakistan does not take place within a kind of zero-sum dynamic," said Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security advisor. "It's often been viewed in the past, that if we become closer to one, it's at the expense of the other. "We've tried to send the signal that it's the opposite with this administration."
Given the fierce antipathy between India and Pakistan, past efforts by the United States to improve relations with either rival have tended to have had a negative impact on its ties with the other. But since Pakistan emerged as a key player in the US anti-terror campaign after the September 11 attacks in 2001, American policy makers have tried to pull off a delicate balancing act of courting both rivals.
While Pakistan is a vital anti-terror ally, emerging India is seen as a cornerstone of US Asia strategy, a natural democratic ally and potential lucrative market for American goods. As Obama has prepared to leave for his departure to India on Friday, November, 5, he took part last week in a strategic dialogue between Pakistani and US officials in Washington, and called Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari on Tuesday.
Some analysts have speculated that current tensions sparked by a row over an incident on the Afghan-Pakistan border and US drone strikes on alleged extremist hideouts in Pakistani tribal regions make a visit unworkable at this stage. Others have said that India would have been offended at attention lavished on its arch rival Pakistan by Obama either before or after his three-day state visit to India.
Rhodes, however, said that Obama had limited time on this trip to Asia, which also includes a twice-postponed visit to Indonesia and the G20 summit in South Korea and the APEC summit in Japan. "He wanted to make sure we have the proper focus on that Pakistan trip when it does take place," said Rhodes, who also serves as Obama's main foreign policy speechwriter.
"I think the strategic dialogue speaks to the fact that we're cooperating closely with Pakistan, just as this visit speaks to a deepening relationship with India." On Tuesday, the White House said in a statement that Obama and Zardari acknowledged that more work needed to be done to address the direct threat to both nations by "terrorist groups in Pakistan." Obama announced last week that he would bypass Pakistan on his Asia trip but would make a trip sometime next year and host Zardari at the White House.
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