The Washington Times - November 18, 2012, 11:29AM

At the start of a three-nation tour of southeast Asia, President Obama joked Sunday with a Buddhist monk in Thailand that he could use some prayer to help reach a budget deal with Republican lawmakers to avert a fiscal crisis back in the U.S.

“We’re working on this budget, we’re going to need a lot of prayer for that,” Mr. Obama told a monk while touring the Wat Pho Royal Monastery.

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Later, at a joint press conference with Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, the president tried to explain his quip.

“I always believe in prayer,” Mr. Obama said. “If a Buddhist monk is wishing me well, I’m going to take whatever good vibes he can give me to try to deal with some challenges back home. I’m confident that we can get our fiscal situation dealt with. “

On Friday, Mr. Obama convened the first negotiating session with congressional leaders seeking an agreement to avoid the so-called “fiscal cliff,” a mix of across-the-board tax hikes and automatic spending cuts that are due to take effect in January. Both sides expressed optimism that they can reach a deal.

In Thailand, Mr. Obama exchanged gifts with 84-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyade at a hospital where he has lived since 2009.