"Even if the Indian Government were suddenly to turn around and get the IAEA stage completed, there would be no time for the remaining two stages," said Ashley Tellis, one of the original architects of the deal and now an adviser to John McCain's presidential campaign. Tellis said that the collapse of the deal would jeopardise India's access to sensitive US technology, which could have an impact on defence sales and civil nuclear development.
"If you look at the regime between 1974 (when India conducted its first nuclear test) and 1998 (its second) that would give you some idea of what India would be heading back towards. This would be an historic blunder," he added.
Under the terms of what many saw as an audacious agreement that gives India access to civil nuclear technology and material without requiring it to renounce its nuclear weapons or join the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, New Delhi had to secure the approval of the board of the International Atomic Energy Agency.
After that, it would be submitted to the 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group before returning to the US Congress for final approval.
New Delhi, however, has sat on the deal for the past 10 months without inviting IAEA inspectors to begin their safeguards inspections. That has swallowed up what little time there was to get it done before President Bush leaves office.
The Financial Times quoted senior Indian officials as saying that their best chances of reviving the deal would come with the election of Republican McCain as US President.
Earlier, US Ambassador to India David Mulford said that while the Indo-US nuclear deal is "not dead," it is "down to the last days", meaning either the deal is on ventilator or that it has slipped into a coma.
Looking for some vital signs of life in the nuclear deal, Mulford said if Indian approval came through by June, the US Congress would still be able to process it.
Stating that the Congress could still rework its timetables, the US Ambassador said time was running short and only a very narrow window of opportunity exists to complete the process.