French President Nicholas Sarkozy will visit India early in 2008 to launch a year of intense high level Franco-Indian exchanges, the French ambassador told
The two countries share “a high degree of trust,” said Jerome Bonnafont, French Ambassador to India, in his first exclusive interview since he arrived in India, and hope to enhance that relationship with a series of top-level political exchanges next year.
The two countries have always been close politically, Bonnafont said, sharing a decade-old strategic partnership.
“It’s an important concept,” Bonnafont explained, which “rests on three pillars: a very old friendship between India and France, the fact that we have common values: democracy, freedom, multilateralism, as the basis for peace. And the fact that France has some technologies, know-how, which it is ready to provide to India. And, vice-versa, India is a very highly-developed scientific country,” he said. With strong and “lively” cooperation in the defence and space sectors, “the idea of the strategic partnership is that we discuss all the subjects, which relate to the organization of the world, which relate to economic development and which relate to our bilateral relations,” said Bonnafont.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner met External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee in New York last week and briefed him about the status of talks with Iran. The five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and Germany have been urging Iran to comply by its international commitments.
“Iran is not complying with the demands of IAEA and the Security Council and its own commitments through treaties.
Therefore, we Europeans, joined by the United States, Russia and China, have made a two-fold approach; if you comply, we are open to dialogue: economic dialogue, nuclear civil dialogue, security dialogue. If you don’t, we will have to take sanctions in order to obtain compliance,” Bonnafont said.
“The idea that Iran gets a military nuclear capability is simply unacceptable to anyone,” he said. “It’s not a question of western countries against this or that. It’s a question of international law to be respected,” said Bonnafont, denying that Kouchner had urged stringent action against Tehran for its non-compliance on its commitments on the nuclear issue.
Despite the political uncertainty within India because of the civil nuclear cooperation (123) Agreement with the US, France has been lobbying hard for India, “both at the political and at the technical level” within the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). “We have always said that it would be important for NSG to accept this special regime for India, provided there is the agreement with the IAEA,” said Bonnafont, till recently the spokesman for former French President Jacques Chirac.
“France has always been very keen on promoting an evolution of the international relationship with India regarding civilian nuclear energy,” he said. “India has behaved in a responsible manner as far as non-proliferation is concerned.”
Also, “India needs more nuclear energy, both for reasons of energy consumption and for clean economic development compatible with the goals of fighting global climate change. It seems to us important that India be in a position to restart big-scale international cooperation in civilian nuclear energy. And this means necessarily an agreement with the IAEA, and an evolution of the guidelines of the NSG,” said Bonnafont.
Bonnafont began his diplomatic career at the French Embassy in India in the mid-1980s. Two decades later, India is one of five countries on the French government’s priority list for intense commercial exchanges, along with the US, Russia, China and Japan.
But Bonnafont’s priority is to get more student exchanges going between the two countries.
“If I were to give one example of the things we would like to achieve, it is to convince all Indian students to come to study in France, because we have an excellent higher education system, and it is important for us, for our long-term relations that there are more Indian students who come to France, like they go to Germany or England or to the US.”