More than three months after US President Barack Obama announced support for India's full membership in elite nuclear groupings, foreign secretary Nirupama Rao heads to the US next month for a high-level dialogue that will also deal with procedures for expediting India's inclusion in the Nuclear Suppliers Group.
Rao is expected to go to Washington mid-February and will engage in wide-ranging talks with her counterpart, US undersecretary of state for political affairs William Burns.
She will also call on US secretary of state Hillary Clinton, who is expected to come to India for the strategic dialogue in April.
Rao is expected to press Washington to expedite the process of changing membership criteria to accommodate India in the 45-nation NSG, the global nuclear cartel which controls international trade in nuclear materials, including dual-use technologies. According to NSG criteria, only countries which have signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) can become members of the cartel.
India has refused to sign the treaty on grounds that it is discriminatory and tends to divide the world into the nuclear haves and have-nots.
Obama announced support for India's full membership in top nuclear groupings, including the NSG, the Wassenaar Convention, the Missile Technology Control Review and the Australia Group.
It was followed by other influential countries like Russia, France and Germany supporting India's inclusion in elite nuclear cartels.
Rao will also discuss the expansion of high-tech trade between India and the US.
The removal of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and their subsidiaries as well as state-owned defence firm Bharat Dynamics from the "entities list" has paved the way for enhanced India-US cooperation in a host of high-technology areas such as satellite development and missile defence.
The visit would take place against the backdrop of Pakistan strongly protesting the US decision to smoothen India's entry into the NSG.
Pakistan's Permanent Representative at the Conference of Disarmament (CD) in Geneva Zamir Akram recently told the CD that the "accumulative impact" of this decision would be to "destabilise the security environment in South Asia". This would "retard progress" on non-proliferation, arms control and disarmament measures, he added.
"Membership of the NSG will enable our neighbour to further expand upon its nuclear cooperation agreements and enhance its nuclear weapons and delivery capability. As a consequence, Pakistan will be forced to take measures to ensure the credibility of its deterrence," he said.