Obama says S.Asia is chief threat to U.S.

CHICAGO Mon Dec 1, 2008 2:20pm EST

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CHICAGO (Reuters) - U.S. President-elect Barack Obama said on Monday militants based in South Asia represented the biggest threat to the United States and he was "absolutely committed" to eliminating the threat of terrorism.

"We cannot tolerate a world where innocents are killed by extremists based on twisted ideologies," Obama, who takes office on January 20, told reporters after naming his national security team.

"We're going to have to bring the full force of our power -- not only military but also diplomatic, economic and political -- to deal with those threats. Not only to keep America safe but also to ensure that peace and prosperity continue around the world."

With the world shocked by the deadly Islamic militant attack on India's financial center of Mumbai that killed 183 people, Obama pointed to South Asia as the area of greatest concern.

"The situation in Afghanistan has been worsening. The situation in South Asia as a whole and the safe havens for terrorists that have been established there, represent the single most important threat against the American people," he said.

"We're going to have to mobilize our resources and focus our attention on defeating al Qaeda, (Osama) bin Laden, and any other extremists groups that intend to target American citizens."

Obama offered American support when he spoke to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh after the Mumbai attacks.

India has blamed the attacks on militants from Pakistan. Obama said that while sovereign nations "obviously have the right to defend themselves", he did not want to comment on the specifics surrounding the Mumbai attack.

"I am confident that India's great democracy is more resilient than killers who would tear it down," Obama said.

"I can tell you that my administration will remain steadfast in support of India's efforts to catch the perpetrators of this terrible act and bring them to justice. And I expect that the world community will feel the same way."

(Reporting by Deborah Charles and Andrew Quinn, editing by Alan Elsner)

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