New Delhi, Feb 14: India and France Thursday discussed progress in negotiations over the Jaitapur nuclear power project and the over $10-billion deal for 126 Rafale fighter jets during talks between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and French President Francois Hollande here.
Both sides inked four agreements, including on railways.
Hollande, who arrived here early Thursday at the head of a high-level delegation which includes six ministers and a 50-member trade delegation, said France and India, which became strategic partners in 1998, are taking their relationship to “yet another stage”.
Addressing a joint press conference with Manmohan Singh after delegation-level talks, Hollande said while France and India do not share the same kind of people or economy, they both “share the same values and principles”.
He also said India was the world’s largest democracy not just by its people but by its diversity. “Both care for independence, democracy and autonomy.”
On defence ties, Hollande said France and India have been cooperating for many years. “India trusts France for its equipment and France trusts India for its use… India is a land of peace.”
While negotiations for the contract for 126 Rafale medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) – manufactured by Dassault Aviation – for the Indian Air Force are still on, the two sides concluded discussions on a deal for co-developing the short-range surface-to-air missile (SRSAM) project.
Hollande said details of the Rafale deal were being discussed “and we do hope we can reach an early conclusion”.
At a press conference later, he ruled out France ever compromising on defence trade rules amid corruption allegations clouding India’s chopper deal with Italy’s AgustaWestland.
Hollande said France would do “nothing contrary to the rules of trade” that were based on the principles of competitiveness and fairness, while pointing out the “excellence” of the Rafale jet.
He said France has “confidence in India, which is a peaceful power and we must provide the best material and equipment to India It is a relation of confidence and trust between us.”
Both countries were strategic partners also for energy. “France and India want to build on their civil nuclear energy cooperation,” said Hollande, adding that both countries also want to take forward their ties in space, education and culture.
During a meet with business leaders, Hollande said France will support India on its negotiations with the EU on clinching a free trade agreement (FTA) and voiced his keenness to boost bilateral trade.
In the fields of transport, railways, trams, sanitation and water, he said “France has to prove that it is of service to the Indian economy”.
On terrorism, he said both countries face a lot of challenges. Referring to the Mumbai attacks, he said “India was hit by a barbaric attack”.
On Mali, where France sent its troops to push out the Al Qaeda militants, Hollande welcomed India’s pledge of $1 million to the United Nations-backed Mission in the north African country.
Hollande said India’s support to France’s move in Mali was part of the “element of credibility of our relationship”.
Manmohan Singh said India regards France as “one of its most valued strategic partners” and their relationship is “defined by the breadth and diversity of our cooperation, as well as by the intensity of our dialogue”.
On Jaitapur, he said: “We reviewed progress… and reiterated our commitment to its early implementation as soon as the commercial and technical negotiations, which have made good progress, are completed.”
Manmohan Singh said both sides “expressed satisfaction with the progress in our defence cooperation, which is poised to reach a qualitatively new level”.
“Discussions on the MMRCA contract are progressing well.”
“There is a welcome shift from defence trade to co-development and co-production of advanced defence items in India, which will help expand our domestic production base and strengthen the India-France strategic partnership,” Manmohan Singh said.
France and India inked agreements in the railway sector, a cultural exchange programme, a letter of intent on intensification of cooperation in the fields of education, higher education and research and a statement of intent for long-term cooperation in space.