On Board Air India One: As the Geroge W Bush administration pulls out all stops to push the India-US nuclear deal through the US Congress, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Tuesday said he was hopeful that the deal would be wrapped up during his US trip that ends Saturday.
"We are hopeful that the deal will be finalised,” Manmohan Singh said on his way to New York, when asked whether he was confident of concluding the deal during the trip.
In the same breath, Manmohan Singh, however, struck a note of caution, saying the conclusion of the deal will depend on the US Congress. "I am hopeful it will happen. Much will depend on the US Congress,” he added.
"Let's see. It is not clear yet. They (US) are preoccupied with the global financial situation,” the Prime Minister said, while alluding to the worst financial meltdown in the US since the 1930s.
Manmohan Singh will meet Bush in the White House in Washington on Thursday and discuss the entire gamut of India-US relations in areas ranging from education and business, to high tech trade and agriculture.
If the deal is approved by the US Congress by then, the two leaders could announce the formal wrapping up of the deal on that day (Thursday). The 123 Agreement will however be signed later, either at the level of foreign ministers or heads of the department of atomic energy of both countries.
Bush will host a special working dinner for Manmohan Singh in the White House.
The business committee of the US Congress is expected to decide on the procedural details for an up and down vote on the 123 Agreement by the Congress soon.
The financial crunch in the US has elbowed aside everything else, including the presidential elections - and could stall the passage of the deal in the Congress.
Opinion is however divided on how the financial crisis will impact upon the process of Congressional approval of the 123 India-US civil nuclear pact.
There are some who feel the meltdown may compel Congressmen to take a more positive view of the deal, which is expected to generate billions of dollars in business for US nuclear companies and thousands of jobs for Americans.
"In politics, one has to learn to live with disappointments but I don't believe we have reached that point,” Manmohan replied when asked whether he would be disappointed if the deal was not approved by the US Congress in the next few days.
These words echoed his remarks last year when the deal was stalled due to the Left parties'' ultimatum over the IAEA pact.
"I am not an astrologer. Let's get there first. Let's see what happens,” a beaming Manmohan Singh, clad in a bandgala-collar white shirt and grey trousers, replied when IANS asked him how he felt about being so close to clinching the nuclear deal in which he had invested so much political capital to bring it to fruition.
Manmohan Singh is on a 10-day foreign trip that will also take him to Marseilles and Paris in France.