Obama picks India friend Biden as running mate

By Arun Kumar, IANS,

Washington : Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama has chosen veteran Delaware senator Joe Biden, a friend of India, as his running mate, in a decision intended to balance his perceived lack of experience in foreign policy.

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The announcement in a text message sent to supporters early Saturday ended weeks of speculation over which of a handful of politicians would get the nod and finally dashed any lingering hopes of his onetime rival, Hillary Clinton.

“Barack has chosen Senator Joe Biden to be our VP nominee,” said the text message as Obama’s campaign site put out the announcement with a photo of the two men and an appeal for donations.

The Democratic National Convention meets Aug 25-28 in Denver to formally anoint Obama as the party candidate and then confirm Biden, 65, who dropped out of the 2008 race for the Democratic presidential nomination after a poor finish in the Iowa caucuses.

While Obama decided against adding Clinton to his ticket, he has in a bid to win over the former first lady’s 18 million primary voters, allowed her name to be placed in nomination at the convention and permitted a roll call vote.

Obama and Biden will make their first public appearance together at a rally Saturday afternoon outside the Old State Capitol in Springfield, Illinois, where Obama got his political start in the state house and launched his presidential bid last year.

Obama, the first black candidate to lead a major US political party’s presidential ticket, has often faced criticism from his Republican rival John McCain, a former Vietnam prisoner of war, over his perceived lack of foreign policy and national security experience.

His vice presidential pick Biden, on the other hand, has over the last 30 years in the upper house also served as head of the Judiciary Committee, with its jurisdiction over anti-crime legislation, Supreme Court nominees and Constitutional issues.

Biden, a Catholic with blue-collar roots and a generally liberal voting record, could also help attract working class votes, considered a weak area for Obama.

As chairman of the upper house’s Foreign Relations Committee, Biden is expected to play a key role in getting final Congressional approval for the India-US civil nuclear deal in the narrow time window available before the legislature adjourns for the year Sep 26.

Biden has himself vowed to push the India-US nuclear deal in the Congress “like the devil” if New Delhi gets its end done though admitted that its passage is going to be “very, very tight”.

“I am going to push like the devil…,” Biden said last month as he lauded Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s decision to go ahead with the deal despite the withdrawal of support by the Left parties.

In 2006 too, as a ranking member of the senate panel, he along with its then Republican chairman Dick Luger played a key part in getting Congressional approval for the Hyde Act, the US enabling law for the nuclear deal.

Back in August 2001, Biden offered bipartisan support as Republican President George Bush started moving on a broad front to strengthen relations with India, culminating in the nuclear deal, described as the symbolic centrepiece of their new strategic relationship.

In a letter to Bush then, he expressed support and indicated that the American economic and military sanctions imposed on India after a nuclear test in 1998 could be removed in time for a possible meeting between Bush and then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in New York in late September.

By lifting the sanctions on India, Biden said in an interview with the New York Times, the US would be “setting an example for Pakistan”, a reference to New Delhi’s non-proliferation record.

“I don’t view this as playing India off China,” he was quoted as saying. “There are all kinds of reasons to treat them as they are – a great nation.”

But during his last senate run in July 2006, Biden also drew fire for a perceived slight of Indian Americans when he said that in Delaware, “you cannot go into a 7-11 or Dunkin’ Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent”. He later explained that he was complimenting Indian entrepreneurship.