Obama reassures India that U.S. is a strong ally

WASHINGTON — President Obama, moving to allay concerns over a loss of U.S. affection, reassured India's prime minister Tuesday that the partnership between the two countries would be "one of the defining relationships of the 21st century."

Appearing with Manmohan Singh at the White House after two hours of talks, Obama said the two countries have agreed to broaden cooperation in a range of areas, including the economy, agriculture, technology, trade and counter-terrorism.

"The United States and India are natural allies," Obama said at a news conference.

There was no visible sign of progress on two important but difficult issues: Iran's disputed nuclear program and the long-delayed U.S.-India civil nuclear agreement. U.S. officials stressed that Obama remains fully committed to the complex 2005 nuclear deal, though it has taken far longer to complete than expected.

Indian officials have worried recently that the Obama administration is less committed than its predecessors to strengthening the U.S.-India relationship. Indians are anxious that their relationship is taking a backseat to growing U.S.-Chinese and U.S.-Pakistani ties. Obama returned last week from a trip to Asia that included a three-day stop in China.

But the administration made a special effort to overcome these perceptions. Singh's trip was chosen to be the first formal state visit of Obama's presidency, and included a ceremonial state dinner on Tuesday night.

In a statement that appeared aimed at listeners in Delhi, Obama stressed that the United States is not looking solely to China for leadership in Asia.

"The United States welcomes and encourages India's leadership role in helping to shape the rise of a stable, peaceful and prosperous Asia," Obama said.

Obama also accepted an invitation from Singh to visit India next year.