India and the US will hold crucial talks to overcome major differences on a bilateral civil nuclear cooperation pact that will pave the way for resumption of nuclear commerce between the two countries.
Indian Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon, who arrived in Washington on Monday, will meet US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns, Washington's chief interlocutor on the nuclear deal, on the finer points of the text of the 123 agreement, which will implement the 2005 civil nuclear deal between the two countries.
This will be the third round of formal negotiations between India and the US and takes place amid renewed posturing by both sides on key issues like nuclear testing and transfer of technologies relating to reprocessing of US-origin spent fuel.
The meeting comes close on the heels of informal talks between the two sides in Cape Town 10 days ago that ended without a breakthrough on key issues.
Joining Menon in the discussions will be S Jaishankar, India's high commissioner to Singapore who has been actively involved with the negotiations, as well as other Indian diplomats.
India will try to get the US to agree to a position whereby the 123 pact, named after Section 123 of the US Atomic Energy Act, will not include a ban on nuclear testing - something Washington is not ready to concede.
Washington has insisted on a clause that will terminate all civilian nuclear cooperation with New Delhi should the latter conduct a nuclear test.
New Delhi feels that this amounts to insinuating through the backdoor a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which it refused to sign years ago and is not ready to accept beyond a voluntary moratorium on testing.
The US, on its part, is insisting on a right-of-return clause for nuclear equipment and fuel sold under the agreement. This is not acceptable to India as it runs counter to the lifetime fuel supply assurances given by the US.
Washington's insistence on fallback bilateral safeguards in addition to the International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards is also not acceptable to New Delhi.
Menon will on Monday attend the fifth meeting of the India-US Global Issues Forum at the State Department.
He will meet Undersecretary of State for Global Affairs Paula Dobriansky on different facets of the UN Democracy Fund, the state of democracy in the world, especially in Afghanistan, and issues relating to trafficking and refugees.