India will be ‘top priority’ in my presidency: Barack Obama (Exclusive Interview)

October 23rd, 2008 - 1:09 pm ICT by IANS  

Barack ObamaChicago, Oct 23 (IANS) A stronger relationship with India and a close strategic partnership will be a “top priority” of a Barack Obama administration, says the Democratic presidential candidate.”The US should be working with India on a range of critical issues from preventing terrorism to promoting peace and stability in Asia,” Senator Obama said in an exclusive interview with IANS, the first with a South Asian journalist after his nomination for the presidency by the Democratic party.

“Joe Biden and I will make building a stronger relationship, including a close strategic partnership, with India a top priority.”

On his agenda for working with New Delhi, he said: “I also believe India is a natural strategic partner for America in the 21st century and that the US should be working with India on a range of critical issues from preventing terrorism to promoting peace and stability in Asia.”

In the interview, Obama elaborated on a wide range of issues, from comprehensive immigration reforms and making globalisation and trade work for American workers, to seeking the active participation of the Indian American community in the process of change that he has advocated.

He said he would support “comprehensive immigration reform”, including the H-1B visa programme “to attract some of the world most talented people to America”.

Obama explained that he wanted to end abuses of the H1-B visas that is used by highly qualified specialists to work in US. He added that he would make “immigrant workers less dependent on their employers for their right to stay in the country, and would hold accountable employers who abuse the system and their workers”.

The Obama administration, he said, would seek to strengthen ties with the “vibrant” Indian American community and encourage their “active engagement… in making the change we seek”.

He asserted the Democratic nomination was running on the manifesto of “inclusiveness, optimism and hope” that will translate into a “progressive presidency”.

On the contentious election topics of outsourcing and globalisation, he said: “We know that we cannot and should not put up walls around our economy.”

Acknowledging that global competition “is a fact that cannot be reversed”, Obama added: “But we must find a way to make globalisation and trade work for American workers.”

Obama has deep roots in Chicago, having started his career as a community organiser in the city. From his days as an Illinois senator, he has had strong links with the city’s growing Indian American community. He has worked regularly on issues ranging from reforms in immigration and campaign finance, to health care and education, with Illinois’ premier Indian political networking group, the Indo-American Democratic Organization.

Excerpts from the interview with IANS:

Q: Immigrants have, over the years, made a critical contribution to the United States. But now the US stands to lose its leadership in the sciences, in part because of restrictive immigration policies. Do you plan to reform immigration laws so that the US is once again a magnet for talent from around the world?

A: I have played a leading role in crafting comprehensive immigration reform and believe that our broken immigration system can only be fixed by putting politics aside and offering a solution that strengthens our security while reaffirming our heritage as a nation of immigrants. I believe we must secure our borders, fix our broken immigration bureaucracy, and require the 12 million undocumented to get on a responsible path to citizenship. They must pay a fine, learn English, and go to the back of the line for citizenship. I will also increase the number of people we allow in the country legally to a level that unites families and meets the demand for jobs employers cannot fill.

Q: Many economists have asserted that in an increasingly globalised world, it is counter productive to restrict the flow of capital, labour and increasingly jobs. Do you plan to restrict outsourcing, or would you prefer that American companies respond to this threat by moving up the value chain instead?

A: Revolutions in communications and technology have sent jobs wherever there’s an internet connection, and have forced workers in Chicago and Boston to compete for those jobs with workers in Bangalore and Beijing. We live in a more competitive world, and that is a fact that cannot be reversed. We know that we cannot and should not put up walls around our economy. But we must find a way to make globalisation and trade work for American workers.

The American worker needs to be supported and given the tools needed to compete in the global economy. So I would pursue common-sense measures such as offering tax incentives to companies that create jobs in the United States, undertaking policies, such as supporting growth sectors like renewable energy and building up our infrastructure, that will lead to creation of well-paying jobs, and, most importantly, investing in education and job re-training programmes. The United States has faced fundamental economic challenges before and it has met them by expanding opportunity outward, growing our middle class, and investing in the education and well-being of our workers.

Q: Are you worried about the fragile polity in Pakistan coupled with the looming presence of terror networks? Would you continue to consider Pakistan as a trusted ally?

A: I want to build a broad-based and lasting relationship with the people of Pakistan - not just temporary alliances with their government. While the US and Pakistan must continue to work together to combat terrorism that has claimed innocent lives in both countries and to destroy the terrorist sanctuaries along the Afghan-Pakistani border, I will make helping Pakistan tackle critical challenges like illiteracy, poverty, and lack of health care a key priority including by increasing aid in these areas. I will stand up for democratic institutions, civil society and judicial independence in Pakistan. I cosponsored legislation with Senator Lugar to triple non-military assistance to Pakistan and sustain it for the next decade.

Q: What are your views on the demand made by several US companies including Microsoft that the US needs to increase the number of work visas (H1B) to protect its technological leadership?

A: I support comprehensive immigration reform that includes improving our visa programmes, including the H-1B programme, to attract some of the world’s most talented people to America. I would like to see immigrant workers less dependent on their employers for their right to stay in the country, and would hold accountable employers who abuse the system and their workers.

Q: From an outsider’s perspective questions such as whether America is “ready for a black president” sounds almost medieval. Why do you think a democracy which is 232 years old is still grappling with such issues?

A: Just 50 years ago, nine brave African American schoolchildren sought to realise the promise of Brown v. Board of Education by walking past an angry mob and into the doors of Central High School in Little Rock , Arkansas. The event marked a great moment in America ’s long march toward equality and freedom. The federal government put itself firmly on the side of justice and equal opportunity for all. And this was only the beginning. That same month, the Civil Rights Act of 1957 was signed into law, and the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division was created shortly thereafter. In the years that followed, another Civil Rights Act and a Voting Rights Act were passed. These laws, and the institutional practices they created, helped transform our nation into one that is more just, more equal, and more free.

While we have made significant progress over the last five decades, there is no question that we have more work to do. Joe Biden and I will build upon our nation’s commitment to equal justice and opportunity for all. We will restore professionalism to the Civil Rights Division and reinvigorate federal civil rights enforcement and reform our criminal justice system so that it works for all, regardless of race, wealth, or other circumstances. We are running on inclusiveness, optimism and hope, and that will translate into a progressive presidency on issues of diversity and inclusion.

Q: You have voted for the Indo-US nuclear deal. Would you consider India a strategic partner with the United States in its efforts to promote stability in the Asian region?

A: I am an advocate of strengthening US relations with India, the world’s largest democracy and a growing economic power. I voted for the India civilian nuclear cooperation deal in 2006 and have since worked to ensure that the agreement is implemented properly so that Indians benefit from expanded energy sources and that nuclear proliferation concerns are addressed. I also believe that India is a natural strategic partner for America in the 21st century and that the US should be working with India on a range of critical issues from preventing terrorism to promoting peace and stability in Asia. Joe Biden and I will make building a stronger relationship, including a close strategic partnership, with India a top priority.

Q: Indian Americans, like many others, look upon you as an agent of change. What would you like to say to them?

A: As a community organiser, civil rights lawyer, and elected official, I have spent my career working on issues of importance to Indian Americans. I am proud to have worked side-by-side with Indian Americans on a variety of issues, including immigration, civil rights, foreign policy, and education, and Joe Biden and I look forward to strengthening our relationships with Indian Americans during my administration. We will reach out to encourage the active engagement of the vibrant Indian American community in making the change we seek.

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