Obama Asia trip no slap to Pakistan, China: aides

WASHINGTON Wed Oct 27, 2010 5:54pm EDT

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) rally in Providence, Rhode Island October 25, 2010. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) rally in Providence, Rhode Island October 25, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama's upcoming trip to India and other Asian countries should not be taken as a slap against India's archrival Pakistan or any other country, including China, aides said on Wednesday.

Obama leaves on November 5 on a 10-day trip to India, Indonesia, South Korea and Japan. Obama will start the trip with 3-1/2 days in India, the longest foreign stop of his presidency.

"India is a cornerstone of our broader Asia approach," William Burns, undersecretary of state for political affairs, told a news conference on the India portion of the trip.

Some commentators have portrayed the tour as a White House effort to counterbalance China's influence in Asia, which has worried Indian officials. But Obama's aides said the administration's strategy is to develop both relationships.

"We don't feel like there needs to be a choice between a cooperative U.S.-China relationship and ... these broader relationships that we have in Asia," White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said.

"As an Asian power and as a Pacific power, it's in the interest of the region for the U.S. to have a cooperative relationship with China on some of these issues, but it's similarly in the interest of the region for us to, again, be very engaged with ASEAN, to be deepening our partnership with India, and to firm up our alliances with Korea and Japan," he said.

ASEAN is the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

PAKISTAN-AFGHAN CONCERNS

There will be a strong economic element to the India trip -- Obama is going with a long trade and finance agenda. But it will also have to address how New Delhi deals with Pakistan, its archrival and fellow nuclear power.

India is also the largest regional aid donor to Afghanistan, which Pakistan, especially its military, sees as its backyard and where Washington looks to Islamabad as a partner as it wages its 9-year war.

The White House says it wants to send the message that drawing closer to India does not mean it is moving further from Pakistan.

"Our central message -- and it's a message, really, to the region -- is that both of these relationships can be advanced and deepened at the same time, on a parallel track, and that that does not, in any way, demonstrate a preference for one relationship over the other, that these things can...be mutually reinforcing, in fact," Rhodes said.

Pakistani officials were in Washington last week for a strategic dialogue and Obama spoke to Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari on Tuesday, Rhodes noted.

Obama also will visit Pakistan in 2011, the White House announced when it said Obama would not stop there this trip, as some commentators had speculated.

Obama is staying at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, which was targeted in the attacks on Mumbai two years ago, and meeting with survivors of the attacks, to underscore his awareness of India's security concerns.

(Editing by Jerry Norton)

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