Hollande's visit message of India's importance to France: Envoy

Last Updated: Mon, Feb 11, 2013 14:10 hrs

New Delhi, Feb 11 (IANS) French President Francois Hollande's first visit to India is "clearly a message" of the importance that Paris places in its strategic ties with New Delhi, the country's envoy said Monday.

Addressing a conference organised by the Observer Research Foundation here, French ambassador Francois Richier said the basis of the India-France strategic partnership was based on the "very strong perception that India will be one of the greatest powers in the world in the decades to come".

"While many had doubts, we have not changed that vision and we were proved right", Richier said at a talk on "What Makes the Indo-French Relations Special: Understanding the Dynamics of the Strategic Partnership".

He said France supports India's bid for becoming a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council and is lobbying for India becoming a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, Wassenaar Arrangement, Australia Group and Missile Technology Control Regime.

"Definitely, for us, India has a stake here and should be members of these groups as soon as possible," he said.

Discussions are going on between Dassault Aviation and India over the over $10 billion contract for 126 French Rafale fighter aircraft for the Indian Air Force, he said, and added that "there will be no contract signed" during the visit of Hollande, beginning Thursday.

Negotiations on the medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) deal and the deal for purchase of French reactors for the Jaitapur plant are "going on smoothly and we are confident it will happen", said the envoy.

The MMRCA deal will "trigger a vast array of scientific and technical cooperation", he added.

Eighteen of the 126 fighter aircraft are to be bought directly from Dassault, while Hindustan Aeronatics Limited (HAL) is to manufacture the other 108 under a licence at a facility in Bangalore.

Among the other defence cooperation projects are for the Scorpene submarine and short-range surface-to-air missile (SRSAM) projects, he added.

"This (defence) is an area where we have a lot do together. We foresee co-production and co-development in India," the envoy added.

The commercial aspect of negotiations for the purchase of six reactors of 60 MW each for the Jaitapur nuclear power plant "will take some time", Richier said, adding that the reactors are "totally safe". He said the power project would prove to be a "game changer" for India.

"Economic relations have not grown as they should have," he said. India-France trade was to touch 12 billion euros in 2012 but stalled at eight billion euros.

He attributed it to the global slump and also to the economic slowdown in India.

But he said the key elements of India-France economic cooperation is on investment and not just trade.

"The two countries have successfully cooperated in research and development," he added.

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