WASHINGTON - THE White House insisted on Wednesday that its bid to court India would not come at the expense of Pakistan, or vice versa, a week before President Barack Obama heads to Mumbai and New Delhi.

Tensions have been high in recent weeks between Washington and its anti-terror ally, but officials said that Mr Obama decided to bypass Pakistan on the forthcoming trip purely to devote 'proper' time to a visit in 2011.

'The president believes that the US relationship with India and the US relationship with Pakistan does not take place within a kind of zero-sum dynamic,' said Mr Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security advisor.

'It's often been viewed that way in the past, that if we become closer to one, it's at the expense of the other. 'We've tried to send the signal that it's the opposite with this administration.'

Given the fierce antipathy between India and Pakistan, past efforts by the United States to improve relations with either rival have tended to have had a negative impact on its ties with the other.

But since Pakistan emerged as a key player in the US anti-terror campaign after the Sept 11 attacks in 2001, American policy makers have tried to pull off a delicate balancing act of courting both rivals. While Pakistan is a vital anti-terror ally, emerging India is seen as a cornerstone of US Asia strategy, a natural democratic ally and potential lucrative market for American goods.

Ties no 'zero sum' game