Indo-French relations reached a new level on Friday with Prime Minister Narendra Modi stating that India will soon buy 36 Rafale jets in ‘fly-away condition’ and President Francois Hollande announcing an investment of two billion Euros in India.
Modi said the 36 Rafale aircraft were being bought due to ‘critical operational necessity’ of the Indian Air Force. He said the terms would be better than the ongoing stalled negotiations and added that officials will soon take the acquisition forward.
The two leaders made the joint statement after discussions between Modi and Hollande during the Indian PM's visit to France.
The joint statement said the two leaders agreed that the terms of new Rafale purchase ‘would be better than as conveyed by Dassault Aviation as part of a separate process underway’.
The delivery is to be to a time-frame compatible to the IAF requirements, and weapons, systems and aircraft would be of the same configuration as approved by IAF and with a longer maintenance responsibility of France.
While long-blocked exclusive negotiations between the two sides had initially focused on 126 French Rafales, the 36-jet order is manufacturer Dassault's biggest yet abroad -- estimated to be worth nearly four billion euros ($4.2 billion).
Paris sold 24 Rafale jets to Egypt earlier this year.
Negotiations to buy the planes kicked off in 2012 but had been bogged down over cost and New Delhi's insistence on assembling a portion of the high-tech planes in India.
Defence minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told reporters after Modi's announcement that all 36 jets would be manufactured in France. Negotiations, meanwhile, continue on finalising the initial 126-jet agreement.
Along with the Rafale deal, as many as 17 agreements, including one on the Jaitapur nuclear project, were signed between Indian and French ministries, companies and research organisations, taking cooperation in the three traditional areas of cooperation of space, nuclear and defence to a new level.
The agreements include one between French nuclear engineering company Areva and Larsen & Toubro, aimed at reducing the cost and increasing localization of the stalled Jaitapur project. Another ‘pre-engineering’ agreement with Areva with Nuclear Power Corporation of India seeks to ‘bring clarity to all technical aspects’ of the Jaitapur plant.
The Jaitapur project, where Areva is to set up six nuclear reactors with total power generation capacity of about 10,000 MW, has been stuck for long because of differences over the cost of electricity to be generated.
Discussions between the two leaders spanned the range of key issues, including climate change, smart cities, security, space, nuclear energy, economic cooperation, heritage/cultural cooperation and education and science and technology.
France will help India develop three smart cities including Nagpur and Puducherry.
The French President also said France will support India in its bid for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council.
A significant aspect of the joint statement was the focus on security aspects of the Indian Ocean: “India welcomes closer engagement of France in the affairs of the Indian Ocean Rim Association and will continue to work closely with France with France in realization of the objectives” of the association.
Prime Minsiter Narendra Modi enjoys a tour on the Seine river with French President Francois Hollande and others.(Reuters Photo)
On other issues, Modi noted that there is a challenging atmosphere in the world and that there is turbulence in different areas due to which all are affected. "In this changing world, there are a number of uncertain questions on stability."
"Terrorism is spreading and taking new shapes. This challenge is being tackled in different forms and to tackle that an extensive strategy is to be evolved. Be it Paris or Mumbai, India and France have understood each other," Modi said.
The Prime Minister said it is the responsibility of every nation to lend support in the fight against terror and not allow terror groups to take shelter and punish the terrorists as soon as possible.
"India and France similarly views these challenges and that is why we will further strengthen our security ties," he added.
The French President said that the two countries will continue to fight terror together to ensure world peace.
Bonhomie between the two leaders was apparent as they made a joint statement at the end of their two-hour meeting, and soon left for a boat ride over the sylvan Seine.
(With inputs from agencies)