Sat, Jan 26, 2008 - Page 5 News List

India, France to expand military ties

SARKOZY TRIP The French president arrived in New Delhi yesterday without his ex-model girlfriend, but the media are still hoping she shows up today at the Taj Mahal

AFP , NEW DELHI

Indian President Pratibha Singh Patil, right, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, center, and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh share a light moment during a welcoming ceremony at the Presidential Palace in New Delhi yesterday.

PHOTO: AFP

French President Nicolas Sarkozy was in India yesterday on a state visit aimed at boosting political ties, pushing for a bigger share of the booming Asian economy and revitalizing weapons sales

The two countries agreed yesterday to strengthen military ties and go beyond a "buyer-seller relationship," Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in a joint news conference with Sarkozy.

"I think it is very important that India and France should cooperate, share information and intelligence gathering for defense of the values which are dear to both our countries," Singh said.

"We have agreed to go beyond a buyer-seller relationship. We will increasingly focus on joint research and development projects, transfer of technology and greater military exchanges," he said.

The two sides had earlier signed an agreement on protecting classified defense information, which Singh said "reaffirmed our strong mutual desire to further strengthen our strategic partnership."

"This partnership is longstanding and rests on shared values and similar approaches to regional and global issues," he said.

"A global fight against terrorism is essential to protect open, democratic and multi-cultural societies like our two countries," Singh said.

France has been hoping to use the state visit to revitalize relations with India, a country ranked as the biggest weapons buyer among emerging nations and expected to spend an estimated US$30 billion on defense purchases over the next five years. France was the second largest arms supplier to India after Russia but has now been overtaken by Israel.

Defense ties have also been hit by a Eurocopter bid for a US$600 million helicopter contract that New Delhi cancelled last month due to alleged irregularities, and a probe into the alleged payment of bribes in a submarine deal.

Indian defense sources said Eurogcopter used a local go-between despite an Indian ban on middlemen in defense deals. India is to float a new tender and Eurocopter plans to bid again.

"I regret that this did not go through, but obviously I respect the decision of the Indian authorities," Sarkozy said in an e-mail interview with the Hindustan Times.

French firms are also expected to be invited to upgrade India's fleet of Mirage fighters and they are also set to compete in a tender for 126 war planes.

Talks will also touch on a nuclear cooperation agreement that has been in the works for years to allow France to supply equipment and fuel to India once it has cleared hurdles with the UN's nuclear watchdog.

"We are on the verge of finding an agreement which will enable the development of civilian nuclear cooperation with India," Sarkozy was quoted as saying.

Because of nuclear weapons tests in 1974 and 1998 India is banned from buying fuel for atomic reactors and related equipment.

The Indian foreign ministry said the visit would yield pacts "in the fields of defense, railways, science and technology and education."

Sarkozy is lined up for meetings with President Pratibha Patil and Hindu nationalist opposition leader Lal Krishna Advani, and today he will be guest of honor at India's annual Republic Day parade.

Sarkozy jetted into New Delhi without girlfriend Carla Bruni, but French and Indian media have speculated that the ex-model may join him today for a private visit to the Taj Mahal, the famed 17th century monument to love.

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