Amid speculation about a delay in a vote on the India-US civil nuclear cooperation legislation, US ambassador David Mulford on Wednesday expressed hope that the Senate would not only vote on the deal this month but clear it with "a large majority."
"We hope the senate will vote this month," he told the Third Indo-Us Economic Summit organised here by the Indo-American Chamber of Commerce.
"If there is Senate action, we believe there will again be a large majority," he said.
Mulford underlined the need for completing the legal process regarding the nuclear deal before the Congress completes its term.
"We both need to move forward on this legal framework expeditiously, working hard to complete the process before the present Congress completes its term this year," the US envoy said.
Mulford's remarks acquire added significance coming as they do before an important meeting between Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran and his US counterpart Nicholas Burns in New York to finalise details of the bilateral nuclear agreement.
The meeting between Saran and Burns would be critical in finalising the final contours of 123 bilateral nuclear pact that has to be signed by both countries after both chambers of the US Congress amend the existing US laws, granting India access to much-needed nuclear fuel and technology after nearly a three-decade old denial regime.
The US envoy also stressed that his country would honour the nuclear agreement with India and said that the goalposts were not being shifted from the July 18, 2005 understanding between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and US President George Bush.
"The procedural movements and debates in American politics are often baffling to our friends around the world, but we will honour the agreement that has been reached," Mulford said.
"The goalposts are not being moved; it is a civil nuclear agreement and, when finally implemented, it will mark a new level of trust and cooperation in our partnership," he said.
Mulford pointed out that in the last two years there has been considerable progress in the US-India ties.
As the implementation of the US-India civilian nuclear energy agreement requires a change in the US law, a bill has been moved which has been approved by the House of Representatives while the Senate is yet to take it up.
Stressing the importance of the agreement, Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee said: "There is a large body of restrictions on the US side related to the nuclear issue that forms an invisible barrier to trade and investment on the part of both Indian and American businesses."
This is "particularly so in the area of high-technology trade and cooperation, so vital to the advancement of the economies of our two countries," said Mukherjee.
The defence minister, however, added that once the US Congress passed the nuclear cooperation bill "in the form reflecting the understanding between the two governments, it is my belief and hope that the Indo-US cooperation will finally come into its own."
Mukherjee echoed Mulford's views that there was ample scope for bilateral trade between India and the US to grow and even double over the next three years to $60 billion.
In the first five months of the current calendar year, the bilateral trade was around $12 billion.
"It is well set to overtake last year's figure of $26.8 billion, which itself was up from $21.6 billion in 2004. Our aim is to double the bilateral trade to $60 billion within the next three years," said Mukherjee.
On oft-repeated comments, including from Mulford, that India's reforms process had slowed, the minister said that there could be minor hitches in the process but "mechanisms are in place to identify bottlenecks and to remove them".
The setting up of the Trade Policy Forum last year had provided a useful mechanism for removing irritants to trade growth, Mukherjee said.
The defence minister urged US companies to explore the scope for joint ventures in defence research and production.
With a new transparent policy in place for defence procurements and level playing field offered through offset obligations, Mukherjee said the US companies could explore opportunities of entering the fray in collaboration with Indian private companies.
He assured that a "roadmap for indirect offsets (obligations) is also under consideration" which is expected to pave the way for arms dealers to invest in infrastructure projects as part of their trade obligations for deals over Rs.3 billion.