Washington: Amongst all the twists and turns that it has presented to an enthralled audience, the Indo-US nuclear deal also threw up a poignant moment when the Indian prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh used the occasion of a post-meeting media briefing to express his gratitude for US president George W Bush. "And when history is written, I think it will be recorded that president George W Bush played a historic role in bringing the two democracies closer to each other," said Dr Singh.
In a story that has been notable for hard-nosed deals, meetings and high-decibel showdowns, this very personal touch from the Indian prime minister, in full media glare, has come as a surprise, even for the hard-nosed. Dr Singh thoughsoft-spoken is also amongst the most reticent of world leaders and so his public acknowledgment is all the more extraordinary.
Earlier, the Indian prime minister flew in from New York today for a meeting with president Bush on Thursday even as some uncertainty prevailed whether the US Congress would be able to push the legislation, ratifying the Indo-US nuclear deal, through by Saturday. This is the last scheduled day for this Congressional session.
Dr Singh went in for a meeting that began 20-minutes late even as president Bush played host to US presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama. The meeting with these candidates was an attempt to reconcile differences over the massive bailout plan moved by president Bush before the US Congress to rescue stricken financial institutions.
According to officials, the two leaders discussed the status of the deal and a range of issues covering Indo-US strategic partnership.
Speaking to reporters at the Oval Office, after a 40-minute meeting with Singh, Bush said he was working hard to push through the Indo-US nuclear deal as quickly as possible. It had taken a lot of work from both the countries, he said. "We want the (123) Agreement to satisfy you and get it out of our Congress. And so we're working hard to get it passed as quickly as possible," Bush said.
"I sincerely hope that the settlement which is now before the US Congress will be approved in a manner which will be satisfactory from the point of view of both our countries," the Indian prime minister said.
"And when history is written, I think it will be recorded that president George W Bush played a historic role in bringing the two democracies closer to each other," said Dr Singh, who acknowledged the US president's efforts in bringing about the "massive transformation" in India-US relations.
"We have not been able to trade in nuclear material, nuclear reactors, nuclear raw materials. And when this restrictive regime ends, I think a great deal of credit will go to president Bush. And for this I am very grateful to you, Mr President," said Dr Singh.
Bush also said that the deal, signed by the two leaders in July, 2005, had taken "a lot of work on both our parts, a lot of courage on your part".
The Indian delegation included deputy chairman of the Planning Commission Montek Singh Ahluwalia, the national security advisor, MK Narayanan, foreign secretary, Shivshankar Menon, the Indian ambassador to the US, Ronen Sen and prime minister's special envoy on the nuclear deal Shyam Saran.
The US side included deputy secretary of state John Negroponte and US ambassador
to India David Mulford.
Mulford told media, ''I can't predict when the 123 agreement would be cleared by the Congress," but went on to add, "It is not impossible that the deal will get ratified by the end of the current session."
"So far, the signs have been positive. The very fact that the deal is moving forward in the Congress is a tribute to the US Congress despite its pre-occupation with the trillion-dollar financial bailout package," he said.
It is expected that the session may be extended by a week.