Indo-France talks to be wide ranging during Sarkozy visit

Indo-France talks to be wide ranging during Sarkozy visit


New Delhi: Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner put a positive spin on French ties with India on 24 December ahead of a visit next month by President Nicolas Sarkozy but admitted no deals would be signed.

“After these four days, I feel that we are very close to each other. You will see that my president will precise a lot of common ground," he told reporters in English. “We have a lot to achieve together," Kouchner said.

The minister was referring to French hopes of signing a civilian nuclear power deal with India as well as cooperation on defence, transport, climate change and culture. But asked if Sarkozy would sign any agreements, Kouchner replied, “this is impossible."

“Unfortunately, we wanted to sign an agreement on helicopters ..." New Delhi cancelled on 6 December a $600 million deal for Eurocopter, a unit of European space giant EADS, to supply 197 helicopters to India. Defence sources said Europter used a local go-between despite an Indian ban on middlemen in defence deals. India is to float a new tender and Eurocopter plans to bid again.

“We have a lot of common goals and common problems, from submarines to fighters," Kouchner said. An Indian court last week ordered police to complete a probe into charges that a bribe was paid in a 2.4 billion euro (three billion dollar) deal to buy Franco-Spanish Scorpene submarines. The Paris government denied the allegations.

India and France would set up a commission on defence issues before Sarkozy’s scheduled visit on 24 January, Kouchner said. Paris is also hoping to sign a nuclear deal with New Delhi as soon as India strikes an agreement with the UN’s atomic watchdog.

That would clear the way to implement an India-US pact ending three decades of sanctions on nuclear trade with India imposed after New Delhi tested atomic weapons. Both sides were also working to open an Indian cultural centre in Paris, Kouchner added.