United States President Barack Obama has pointed to a larger role for India in the Asia-Pacific and said India and America could become "best partners", even as he pressed his host over issues including freedom of religion and combating climate change.
Mr Obama made the remarks yesterday - the last day of his three-day visit to India that has revealed a closer convergence of interests between the two countries. He flew to Saudi Arabia yesterday.
"The US welcomes a greater role for India in the Asia-Pacific where freedom of navigation must be upheld and disputes resolved peacefully," Mr Obama told an audience of 2,000 people, including many college and school students at a public event in New Delhi.
Tension in the South China Sea over competing territorial claims between China and other countries, including Vietnam and the Philippines, has been a matter of concern for the region and it has been seen as a sign of the growing assertiveness of China.
While India, which has a border dispute with China, has no stakes in the dispute over the South China Sea, it still joined the US during Mr Obama's trip in outlining a vision for the Asia-Pacific that included closer cooperation between the two sides to promote security and peace in the region.
Mr Obama - who compared his own humble background as the "grandson of a cook" to that of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a one-time tea seller - said in his address, televised live on Indian channels: "India and the United States are not just natural partners - I believe that America can be India's best partner."
Mr Obama has become the first US president to visit India twice and also the first to attend India's Republic Day parade as the chief guest. Ties between India and the US have warmed considerably since Mr Modi, who belongs to the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, came to power last May.
Still, Mr Obama, before leaving India, raised concerns about climate change and religious harmony, against the backdrop of the rise of Hindu far right groups since Mr Modi became prime minister.
Without making any direct references, Mr Obama said: "India will succeed so long as it is not splintered on religious lines."
The US President also pushed India on battling climate change, saying developing countries have to cut dependence on fossil fuels.
"But here is 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."
Mr Modi had earlier indicated that India would not commit to cutting carbon emissions and was not under pressure to do so despite a recent deal between China and the US to cut emissions.
Still, Mr Modi tweeted his satisfaction with Mr Obama's visit yesterday: "Your visit has taken India-USA ties to a new level & opened a new chapter."
In a pre-recorded radio show broadcast last night, Mr Modi introduced Mr Obama on his programme, Mann Ki Baat, which means "musings of the mind" in Hindi, and asked the US President questions sent in by listeners.
Mr Obama was asked how he will tell his daughters about his experience in India. "They are fascinated by India. They had school and they couldn't leave school. When I go back, I will tell them India is as magnificent as they imagined," he replied.
This article was first published on January 28, 2015.
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