NEW DELHI -- President Obama said Monday that he was ready to play "any role" requested by India and Pakistan to foster peace between them as he moved delicately to address tensions between the nuclear-armed neighbors.
On the third and final day of his trip to India, Obama said that while both India and Pakistan have an interest in reducing tensions in the region, the U.S. "cannot impose a solution to these problems."
"We are happy to play any role the parties think is appropriate," Obama said at a joint news conference with India's Prime Minister Manmoham Singh.
Muslim-dominated Pakistan and Hindu-majority India have gone to war before and still hold deep suspicions. Indian officials accuse Pakistan's intelligence service of helping orchestrate the 2008 Mumbai attacks that killed 166 people and say Islamabad has not done enough to crack down on the Pakistan-based extremists held responsible.
Pakistan views India's ties with the U.S.-backed government in Afghanistan as an effort by its old rival to encircle it.
Obama treaded carefully when asked about what role the U.S. could play in resolving India and Pakistan's long-standing dispute over Kashmir, a Himalayan region where rebels have sought independence from India or incorporation with Pakistan. The president quickly sought to broaden his answer, saying a reduction in tensions would not only benefit the region, but also the security of the U.S.
Kashmir has been the main source of friction between the nuclear-armed neighbors since they won independence from Britain in 1947. Pakistan has frequently sought outside intervention to resolve it but India vehemently opposes such involvement, and the United States has traditionally stayed above the fray. Obama declined to veer from that stance.
Singh said that while he believes a strong, moderate Pakistan is in the interest of India and the wider region, India can't engage in talks as long as Pakistan's "terror machine is as active as ever before." However, he deflected a reporter's question about whether he would call Pakistan a terrorist state.
Singh is seen as a driving force behind Indian efforts to make peace with Pakistan. He called off peace talks following the November 2008 Mumbai attacks, carried out by Pakistani militants, but was generally restrained in his reaction and never threatened military retaliation. The two countries have resumed periodic "trust-building" talks between foreign ministers and foreign secretaries in recent months.
After the news conference, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi reiterated that his country was willing to talk to India and was committed to eliminating terrorism and dismantling any networks operating from his country.
"We condemn terrorism. We do not and will not allow Pakistani soil to be used against anyone and that includes India," he told India's CNN-IBN news channel. "We have taken considerable steps in the last two years to deal with this situation."
Obama's three-day stop in India is the longest amount of time he's spent in a foreign country since taking office.
The president praised the relationship between the U.S. and India as one of the "defining partnerships of the 21st century." He and Singh said they would co-host an international education summit next year and said the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and India's Ministry of Home Affairs would collaborate to combat terrorism by improving security at airports and seaports.
Obama also said the U.S. will continue to share intelligence with India. And Singh said his country would establish new centers to focus more attention on the issues of nuclear proliferation and disease.
The leaders also reaffirmed their pledges of newfound economic cooperation, including moves by the United States to ease export controls affecting trade between the world's two largest democracies.
Speaking to the sensitivity about high unemployment in the U.S., Singh said at one point that his country "is not in the business of stealing jobs from America."
Obama said in response to a question: "I don't think India is emerging. It has emerged."
Obama's final day in India began with a grand welcome ceremony at Rashtrapati Bhavan, the palatial residence of India's president. Guards on horseback led Obama's limousine up the red clay driveway leading to the residence, where Obama was greeted by Indian dignitaries. He stood with his hand on his heart as a military band played the U.S. national anthem.
Following the arrival ceremony, Obama and first lady Michelle Obama placed a wreath at Raj Ghat, a memorial to Mohandas Gandhi. As a sign of respect, the Obamas removed their shoes before placing a large white wreath on a flower-covered tablet in front of an eternal flame.
Later Monday, Obama planned to speak to the Indian Parliament, with announcements expected on counterterrorism, regional security, clean energy, climate change and economic growth.
Hanging over Obama's 10-day trip to Asia are heavy election losses at home. On Sunday, Obama promised to make "midcourse corrections" to reinvigorate his embattled domestic agenda in the face of a testier American public and more combative Congress.
Domestic politics came up not in response to a question from a Washington reporter but rather an Indian college student, who told Obama: "It seems that the American people have asked for a change."
The president agreed that people vented their frustration about the economy by sacking many incumbents.
A "healthy thing," he said, even though his Democratic Party suffered, losing control of one of the chambers in Congress. He said he would not retreat on spending money for energy and education, and offered no specific policy changes.