Negotiations at the Seoul Nuclear Suppliers Group special session threatened to stretch past midnight on Thursday, as reports said "several" countries remained opposed to the possibility of non-signatories to the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty (NPT) like India being admitted to the group.
Earlier in the evening, India received a major boost to its chances when the NSG agreed to hold the discussion on its candidature.
Government sources claim the "key meeting" had seen some clarity, with a "consensus minus one", indicating that China was the only holdout – though other reports said several countries, now including BRICS partner Brazil, continued to oppose India's membership.
The meeting that began at 9 pm with all heads of delegations present, stretched far longer than diplomats expected. While concerns from Turkey, Ireland, Austria and New Zealand had been voiced in the past as well, even Brazil is believed to have spoken at the session opposing a change to what are seen as a "core value" of the 48-member NSG.
India has maintained that signing the NPT is not a prerequisite for becoming a member of the NSG. Significantly, the Indian team led by foreign secretary S Jaishankar had met with the Brazilian delegation in a series of meeting on the sidelines of the summit earlier in the day.
The Hindu cited a source as saying that "deliberations have not moved beyond the NPT question, and we are yet to discuss India's case specifically".
The news of the impasse follows a meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping in Tashkent, which failed to bring a positive statement of support from China for India's candidature.
China continues to argue for all non-NPT applicant countries – in other words, India and Pakistan – to be treated equally.
During the meeting Modi urged Xi to make a "fair and objective assessment of India's application and judge it only on its own merit", according to external affairs ministry spokesperson Vikas Swarup.
Although the NSG meeting is a closed-door affair, diplomatic sources from several countries have confirmed their delegation head will attend the session convened by Argentinian chairperson Rafael Grossi. Both Argentina and host South Korea have been supportive of India's case for membership in the past year, and delegates from both countries are understood to have worked on setting up a special formal session on Thursday evening.
In a series of statements this week, China has maintained that the issue of non-NPT countries like India applying for membership is not on the agenda in Seoul.
But several countries are understood to have raised India's case during the first day of the two-day plenary on Thursday. Japan is understood to have even ''welcomed'' India's application, calling for it to be considered.
Besides Jaishankar, an expert in nuclear issues who has served in high profile positions in Indian missions in the US, China, Russia and Japan (key countries in the NSG), the Indian team includes its top official on nuclear issues Amandeep Singh Gill, who has negotiated the details of India's civil nuclear agreements and MoUs with countries including Canada, the US, Australia and Japan in the past few years. Also in Seoul is India's Ambassador to South Korea Vikram Doraiswami, who has served in the PMOs of both Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh, and handled the America desk during the crucial phases of the India-US civil nuclear engagement.
In the past few days, countries like the US, the UK and France have made public proclamations of support to India's bid, calling on other members to follow suit, while Russian President Putin said that India's case was ''special'' and must be supported within the ambits of international law.