New Delhi: French foreign minister Laurent Fabius on Monday said he was “pretty optimistic” that the $20 billion (around Rs.1.2 trillion) deal to supply India with 126 Rafale fighter jets would be clinched early—something he said would open the doors for further defence cooperation with India.
Fabius, the first foreign minister of a western country to visit India since the new government headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi took office on 26 May, said he was carrying an invitation from President Francois Hollande for Modi to visit France in September. Fabius is scheduled to meet Modi on Tuesday.
“France has high ambition for this (India-France) partnership and this ambition is shared by the new Indian government,” the French foreign minister told reporters in New Delhi.
In talks with foreign minister Sushma Swaraj, Fabius discussed a wide range of bilateral and international issues including the promotion of tourism, boosting the number of Indian students studying in France, cooperation on space and climate change, ways to increase two-way trade and investment, and the situation in Iraq.
On the long-pending sale of Rafale fighter aircraft to India, Fabius said: “I am pretty optimistic, things are developing smoothly.”
He described the combat aircraft, built by Dassault Aviation as “the best that can be conceived from a technical viewpoint...It would be very important because, stemming from this contract, we can develop a large partnership in the domain of defence. Apart from Rafale, we have prospects in the domain of missiles, in the domain of submarines, in the domain of helicopters and it will make it possible to have really complete partnership between Indian industry and French industry,” Fabius said.
India has been looking for a fighter jet for its Air Force for more than a decade and, in 2012, chose the Rafale over three others, including the Eurofighter Typhoon manufactured by the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co., which was earlier this year rebranded as Airbus Group NV. The Rafale deal accommodates key Indian demands on transfer of technology, offsets under which Dassault Aviation will have to plough back 50% of the contract value into India and a partnership with the state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) for co-production.
Arun Jaitley, the finance minister, who also holds the defence portfolio, raised hopes of speedy defence procurement last week when he criticised the “slow pace of acquisition” and said there was a “good case for these processes to be expedited”.
Briefing reporters on the talks, Indian foreign ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin said the “comprehensive” discussions spread over three hours covered civil nuclear cooperation. France has been seeking clarifications on how India’s nuclear liability law would be implemented and the consequences of any possible nuclear accident. In 2010, state-run Nuclear Power Corp. of India Ltd signed a pact with France’s Areva SA to buy two European Pressurised Reactors (EPR), each with a capacity to produce 1,650MW of electricity, and uranium supply for a period of 25 years for the Jaitapur nuclear power plant in Maharashtra. These units are the first of six that will be constructed at Jaitapur for commissioning by 2018. The complex will have an overall capacity of 10,000MW. “Both sides reiterated their commitment to proceed with the Jaitapur nuclear power plant,” the spokesman added.