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India, France working on nuke energy agreement

india Updated: Sep 04, 2006 21:21 IST

France on Monday said it was working out details of a "broad agreement" with India for supply of nuclear reactors for meeting New Delhi's civil energy needs.

"We understand the critical energy needs of India and the process for a broad agreement on supply of nuclear reactors and fissile material is at a crucial stage," French Defence Ministry spokesman Jean-Francois said.

He was speaking after a meeting in Paris between the visiting Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee and his French counterpart Michelle Aliotte-Marie during which the two sides discussed ways to chalk out cooperation in civilian nuclear energy and took stock of Indo-French defence projects. They also reviewed the situation in Lebanon and Afghanistan.

Mukherjee and Alliote had a one-to-one meeting followed by delegation-level talks between the two countries. "The nuclear energy agreement has to be compatible with French Government concerns on non-proliferation and should not send wrong signals to other countries," the French spokesman said.

He said the two countries also discussed India's requests for collaboration in the high-tech weapon systems and progress in the current weapons supply projects.

Elaborating on the situation in Lebanon, he said the French Government has made it known to India that it wants the continued presence of Indian troops with the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).

If there were fears in the French industry of Americans garnering big ticket arms contracts in India, Jean Francois said the French Minister had conveyed on behalf of the European defence industry that it only wanted a competitive field and norms.

Mukherjee is scheduled to have an interactive meeting with the chief executives of French defence firms on Tuesday, where he may outline India's new defence purchase procedures and manual released recently.

The French industry is keen to competitively bid for these upcoming multi-billion Euro deals for purchase by India of fighter planes, helicopters, surface-to-air, air defence missiles and surveillance equipment.

The French spokesman said, "We have no difficulty and we have been sharing expertise with New Delhi in its drive to build up indigenous defence capability."

He also said that a programme is being scheduled for maiden joint army exercise sessions between both countries.

After the recent joint manoeuvres undertaken between Indian, British and American special forces, French land forces are keen on holding exercises with Indian forces to counter terrorism.

On Lebanon, the French spokesman said France had told India that it could reconsider its decision in February when the new mandate of the Forces comes up for review by the UN.

He said the French position on Lebanon is almost identical to India in that the peace effort in Lebanon should be under the auspices of the UN and diplomacy should get preference over use of force.

He said France was in the process of inducting 1,800 troops to join the existing 1,700 to ensure that military force fulfils its mission to uphold the sovereignty of Lebanon and to see to it that Lebanese soil was not used to wage war against other countries.

The French troops for the task have been equipped with frontline French main battle tanks and 155 mm artillery guns to ensure that there is no return to force in South Lebanon, the French spokesman said.

"We would have preferred a mandate under Chapter 7 which allows for peace enforcement and disarming," Jean-Francois said.

On Afghanistan and the South Asian region, he said that Paris had conveyed its concern to New Delhi on the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan and discussed ways to prevent destabilisation in the country.

"We shared our reports of disquieting developments in Afghanistan and the two countries agreed that steps should be taken to ensure that destabilising forces in that country are not allowed to gain ground," he said.

France has recently taken over the role of military policing of Kabul and other central regions of Afghanistan.

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