President Obama and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh renewed their pledge Friday to deepen the relationship between the U.S. and India, declaring a shared interest in reducing tensions in South Asia as the U.S. reduces its footprint in war-torn Afghanistan.
Calling each other indispensable partners, Obama and Singh said great strides had been made on economic cooperation and a civilian nuclear agreement, without addressing concerns that progress in those areas has come too slowly and that the U.S.-India relationship has stagnated in recent years.
They held up clean energy, military trade and common efforts to reduce endemic poverty in India as continued opportunities for the world's two largest democracies to work in tandem.
"There is a natural convergence between the United States and India," Obama said.
Terrorism in India, tensions with neighboring Pakistan and concerns about the future of Afghanistan were of key concern to the Indian leader, who said he explained to Obama the difficulties India faces given that the "epicenter of terrors still remains focused in Pakistan." Singh said he was looking forward to a highly anticipated meeting with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif but cautioned against the notion the meeting could produce an immediate warming in relations.
"The expectations have to be toned down," Singh said.
A landmark agreement on civil nuclear technology forged between Singh and former President George W. Bush has failed to yield the immediate economic benefits some had hoped. There's been disappointment that military trade and economic reforms haven't progressed quickly enough either.
But Obama, casting attention to the future, said in the last few days, the first commercial agreement has been reached between a U.S. company and India on civilian nuclear power, alluding to a pact with Westinghouse Electric Co. that could lead to the development of a nuclear power plant using the American company's technology.
Both nations see a close partnership as key to their own interests.
"There's a bipartisan sense in Washington that India, being a large, growing Asian democracy, occupies potentially a very important role -- not least because it stands next to China," said Daniel Markey, a former State Department official and South Asia expert at the Council on Foreign Relations.
"It could be an Asia giant to counter some of China's influence in the world."