The U.N. nuclear watchdog head Mohamed ElBaradei met India's prime minister on Thursday in a long-scheduled trip as time started to run out for the government to press forward with a nuclear deal with the United States.

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), in India on an ostensibly technical visit, sped away from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's residence without comment.

ElBaradei's trip came just as the government and its leftist allies faced off in an impasse that has threatened either to scupper the nuclear deal, or spark a snap general election.

In order to get the deal passed by U.S. Congress before the end of the Bush administration, the Indian government wants to negotiate IAEA safeguards by the end of this month.

But communists opposing the deal have threatened to withdraw crucial parliamentary support if that goes ahead.

The deal has been heralded as a landmark in U.S.-Indian relations and crucial for the country's energy needs by reversing years of anti-proliferation policies and allowing international cooperation to develop its civilian nuclear industry.

But communists say the deal makes India subservient to U.S. interests. They who do not want the government to formally talk with the IAEA about placing civilian nuclear reactors under U.N. safeguards.

There were some signs the government, which only a few days ago seemed determined to secure its biggest foreign policy achievement even at the risk of a snap election, was losing its nerve.

"No single party wants a snap poll as it is not in the interest of the nation," Railway Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav, a member of a panel negotiating the impasse with the communists, was quoted by the Press Trust of India as saying.

"There is not even a remote chance of a mid-term election and all concerns voiced by the left would be addressed in an amicable and cordial atmosphere."

Smaller parties in the ruling coalition -- facing possible losses in a snap vote -- were uneasy at the Congress party, which leads the ruling coalition, risking their political future on a deal that surveys show is a low priority for most Indians.

Yadav's statement, echoed by another minister, contrasted with an aggressive speech backing the nuclear deal on Sunday by Sonia Gandhi, ruling Congress party head and India's most powerful politician, widely interpreted as implying she was ready for a snap vote.

Her statement contributed to a tense face-off with the leftists this week, which ended with both sides pulling back from the brink and agreeing to talk again on October 22.

ElBaradei on Wednesday voiced support for the deal.

"The agreement is something for the government to decide but as I said, I'd like to see India become a full partner in the nuclear field and I'd like to see India make use of every technology," ElBaradei said.

A snap election could also put the nuclear deal at risk by throwing the country into political limbo, but would not necessarily kill it. The government can still move ahead with the agreement without parliamentary approval.

India still needs clearance from the IAEA, the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group and final approval from the U.S. Congress.

Indian markets are worried the government may pass populist measures ahead of a vote that would widen the fiscal deficit, and that polls might lead to an unstable coalition.

The pact has been criticized by many outside India, including some members of the U.S. Congress, who say it undercuts a U.S.-led campaign to curtail the nuclear ambitions of nations like Iran.