The Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) is inching towards forging a consensus on clearing a waiver to India for nuclear commerce, a decision that can take the Indo-US nuclear deal forward.
After a day-long meeting on Thursday, delegates to the 45-member nuclear cartel expressed optimism over a consensus to end the country's three-decade long nuclear isolation by Friday.
"We are close to a consensus. There may be a statement for the Press on Friday," a western diplomat, who refused to be identified either by name or country, said after the delegates considered a revised US draft waiver at the conclusion of the second session of the opening day of the two-day meeting.
The draft waiver included provisions like the NSG Chair informing the nuclear club about India's adherence to its guidelines after holding consultations with the country, a move aimed at pacifying countries having reservations.
Asked about the countries that have raised questions and expressed reservations over a clean waiver, the diplomat said they are positive and flexible.
A number of countries like New Zealand, Austria, Norway, Ireland, The Netherlands and Switzerland were not satisfied with the present draft even as the US pushed for a consensus by projecting the waiver as a 'historic opportunity' to bring the largest democracy and one of the biggest economies into the global nuclear mainstream.
"I believe we are making steady progress in this process and we will continue to make progress," US Undersecretary of State William Burns told reporters at the end of first round.
Foreign Secretary Shivshanker Menon and Prime Minister's Special Envoy Shyam Saran were in touch with American officials through the day.
Although progress has been made at Thursday's meeting, some issues, particularly relating to nuclear testing by India, remain unresolved but the sceptic countries appear to be flexible.
"The US believes firmly that the steps we are considering for India will strengthen non-proliferation and help to welcome one of the world's largest economies and biggest democracies more fully into the global fold," Burns said.
One diplomat said there could be minor changes in the draft waiver but it is not clear whether there would be conditionalities in the waiver.
Diplomats are expected to informally hammer out an acceptable formulation in the night, which can be brought to the table tomorrow. Some of them were confident of a breakthrough without the NSG having to meet for the third time to consider the revised American draft.
A NSG waiver is a key step in the operationalisation of the nuclear deal which will go to the US Congress for approval once the atomic cartel gives the green light.
The first session lasted for three hours before the delegates broke for an extended lunch-break during when delegates of skeptic countries were seen holding informal parleys. The second session was a brief affair.
Raising their concerns at today's meeting here, some countries felt India could use the NSG exemption to further its military nuclear programme with suggestions being made for changes even in the revised draft waiver placed by the US before the atomic cartel.
The first day of the crucial meeting saw sceptic countries demand a commitment in the draft that nuclear cooperation will end if India conducts a nuclear test and favoured denial of enrichment and reprocessing rights to New Delhi.
The US draft has been amended after demands by a number of NSG countries to address non-proliferation concerns.
Anti-proliferation lobbyists feel that the amendment falls short of the demand made by some NSG countries for periodic review of India's adherence to the grouping's guidelines as a condition for granting the waiver, which has been opposed by New Delhi.
Burns said the US is determined to continue to do 'all we can by working with NSG partners and India to realise that opportunity'.
The revised draft was prepared by the US in consultation with India after at least 15 countries sought amendments in the original text during the last NSG meeting on August 21-22.
"There are concerns about (nuclear) testing," said a European diplomat who attended the first day of the two-day meeting.
"The reprocessing facility is not available to even some countries, which have signed the Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty then why should the exemption be made for India, which is not a signatory to the NPT. Such are the questions," the diplomat said requesting anonymity.
Another diplomat, who also did not wish to be identified, said changes were required to be made in the present draft to meet concerns of the countries.