French President Francois Hollande yesterday played down the prospects of a swift conclusion to a drawn-out deal for New Delhi to buy 36 French fighter jets as he began a three-day visit to India
The invitation for Hollande to be chief guest at India’s Republic Day military parade tomorrow had raised expectations that the multi-billion dollar agreement for the Rafale jets would finally be nailed down.
However, in an interview published hours ahead of his arrival, Hollande said that while negotiations were making progress, agreement on the final details would still take time.
Hollande told the Press Trust of India (PTI) the deal “was a major project for India and France” that would “pave the way for an unprecedented industrial and technological cooperation” for the next four decades.
“Agreeing on the technicalities of this arrangement obviously takes time, but we are on the right track,” he told the news agency.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi last year announced in Paris that his government had agreed to buy the jets as India looks to modernize its Soviet-era military, in part to keep up with Pakistan and China.
The two leaders stepped into the long-delayed deal last year after torturous negotiations over a much-larger agreement first signed with France’s Dassault Aviation in 2012 broke down.
An ongoing sticking point has been Delhi’s standard requirement that arms makers invest a percentage of the value of any major deal in India, known as the offset clause.
Hollande began his second official visit to India by touring the northern city of Chandigarh, which was designed by French architect Le Corbusier more than 60 years ago.
The French leader, travelling with a large business delegation, will also address, along with Modi, a forum of Indian chief executives in the evening.
In a Tweet posted as Hollande landed, Modi said he was “honoured & delighted to have him as the Chief Guest for Republic Day celebrations.”
“We will build on the ground covered during our previous interactions,” Modi added.
The leaders today are expected to announce a roadmap for building six French nuclear reactors in western Maharashtra state, more than five years after a bilateral civil nuclear cooperation agreement was signed, according to the Times of India newspaper.
They are also to lay a foundation stone at the new headquarters of the International Solar Alliance, a 121-nation group launched by Modi at the Paris COP21 conference in November last year, to expand affordable solar power.
India launched a nationwide security crackdown in the lead up to Republic Day celebrations, arresting a string of suspected Islamic militants during raids in four states.
Security was tight ahead of Hollande’s arrival, with armed police and paramilitary forces patrolling the streets of Chandigarh.
“India and France are confronted with similar threats: we are attacked by murderers who pretend to act on religious basis. Their real objective is widespread hate,” Hollanded told PTI.
“They want to undermine our democratic values and our way of life. India and France are united in their determination to act together against terrorism,” he said.
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