France is keen to sign a bilateral civil nuclear energy pact with India and is confident of winning the scrapped Eurocopter deal in a new round of bidding, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said in New Delhi on Friday.
"We are in favour of initialling a future agreement on civilian nuclear cooperation. But we have to first wait for India to finalise the pact with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)," Kouchner said here less than a month before French President Nicolas Sarkozy comes to India on January 24.
"Even if a protocol is ready, we have to wait for the IAEA. We have to speed up agreements but it might be delayed," Kouchner, who is on a four-day visit to India, told reporters when asked whether the bilateral nuclear pact would be ready for signing during Sarkozy's visit.
Kouchner said that France was one of the earliest supporters of the India-US civil nuclear deal, which aims at bringing India into the global nuclear mainstream. He also said that nuclear energy is safe, and underlined the record of France's 56 nuclear rectors.
"Our reactors are more secure than anywhere else in the world. Nuclear power contributes 90 per cent of France's total energy," he said, reiterating France's support to India in the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group.
Kouchner called on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Friday and discussed with him an entire gamut of bilateral and global issues, including civil nuclear energy, defence deals, economic ties and climate change that will come up during the visit of Sarkozy, who will be the chief guest at India's Republic Day parade on January 26.
Kouchner, a popular politician in France, is often feted as the rock star of humanitarian relief and is a co-founder of the Nobel Prize-winning Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders).
Kouchner tried to put a brave face to France's disappointment over the Indian government's scrapping a proposed $550 million deal to buy 197 French military helicopters, saying that he was "not satisfied" with the evaluation process and asserted that Eurocopter, an arm of European aerospace giant EADS, was best placed to win the deal.
"I am not satisfied, but we have been told by the Indian government that the bidding process has to be launched again because of procedural details," Kouchner said.
"We will certainly win in the new bidding process," he said, indicating that the proposed deal, which was expected to be the highlight of Sarkozy's visit to India, may be revived.
"The French Fennec helicopters are the best. Fennec is world class and is perfectly adapted to the Indian conditions," he stressed.
"It's not the end of the deal. It's not the end of the world. I am not angry," Kouchner said.
However, an Indian defence ministry official reiterated on Friday that the deal had been scrapped due to irregularities in the selection process.
"The deal has definitely been scrapped," an official told IANS, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Kouchner also vehemently denied reports in the media that India's ambassador to France Ranjan Mathai was summoned by Elysee Palace and asked for an explanation about the scrapping of the deal.
The copter issue figured prominently in discussions between Kouchner and his Indian counterpart Pranab Mukherjee on Thursday.
The Indian defence ministry announced on December 6 that the $550 million deal was off due to flaws found in the machines during the evaluation process. The real reasons for scrapping this deal, however, continue to be the subject of speculation, with sources in the government hinting that Eurocopter used middlemen in defence deals despite an Indian ban on it.
Another arms deal involving France has run into trouble. An Indian court on Thursday ordered the police to complete a probe into charges that a bribe was paid in a 2.4 billion euro ($3 billion) deal to buy Franco-Spanish Scorpene submarines.
Placing the forthcoming presidential visit in a broader perspective, the French minister said Sarkozy's visit would underline new strategic equations between India and France and underscore common approach towards global issues like developments in Afghanistan, Pakistan, the UN reforms and climate change.
"Friendship will be the highlight of the visit. Friendship is not a question of money. It's a question of sharing a common global view and approach to global problems. We are very close to the Indian position."
Kouchner also vigorously supported the idea of including India and other outreach partners in an expanded G8 forum of the world's most industrialised nations.