India's Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon headed for Washington even as the 45-member Nuclear Suppliers' Group (NSG) failed to reach a consensus at its Vienna conclave on lifting the ban on nuclear commerce with India.
Menon, who reaches Washington on Monday, will have talks with his counterpart, US Undersecretary of State William Burns, who has taken the place of Nick Burns, Washington's former key negotiator on the India-US nuclear deal.
Though Indian officials suggested that Menon's one-day visit was planned, how to sell the India deal to the nuclear cartel when it meets again Sep 4-5 to decide on the India-specific waiver, will probably figure high on his agenda.
Though most members in the NSG are for lifting the ban, some are keen that a provision be included in the draft that if India conducts any more tests the commerce between the two sides will be stopped, according to reports from Vienna.
Menon himself told reporters in Vienna that no NSG member was against giving India a special exemption and the meeting saw a "narrowing of differences" over the issue.
"There has been a narrowing down of differences between the various countries. It is quite a remarkable feat that 45 different sovereign nations should decide to have one point of view over any issue," Menon said.
Apart from getting an NSG decision acceptable to India, US officials are also concerned about how to get the necessary Congressional approval for the deal in the narrow time window left before the legislature adjourns for the year Sep 26.
The US enabling law, the Hyde Act, requires that Congress be in 30 days of continuous session to consider the deal. While Joseph R. Biden, Democratic chairman of the powerful US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has vowed to push the India-US nuclear deal in the Congress "like the devil", a few other lawmakers have served notice that they would oppose the deal if it was not in tune with the Hyde Act.
However, Howard L. Berman, Democratic chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, sent Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice a letter saying he found it "incomprehensible" that the administration is seeking an NSG exemption for India with "few or none of the conditions" contained in the Hyde Act.
He warned that a failure to include such conditions in the NSG agreement would doom consideration of the US-India deal in the current Congress.