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Sarkozy concludes his India visit

india Updated: Jan 27, 2008 02:16 IST
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French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Saturday night wrapped up his whirlwind India visit, during which he advocated for New Delhi's greater role in global forums, backed its need for nuclear energy and charmed captains of Indian industry.

A new target of tripling bilateral trade volume to 12 million euros ($17.6 million) by 2012 was announced, along with France's decision to invest 10 billion euros in India over the next four years.

Sarkozy arrived here Friday morning, accompanied by a 300-strong delegation, including over 60 business leaders and nearly 20 top officials of French educational institutions.

The visit yielded five pacts between the two governments, 10 business-to-business deals and over 20 agreements between educational institutions of the two countries.

The substantive part of the visit took place Friday, when Sarkozy held a series of meetings with the Indian political leadership. He held extensive discussions with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and witnessed the signing of bilateral pacts related to defence, nuclear research and consular and development cooperation.

Even as France strongly supported India's right to access a clean source of energy like nuclear power, both countries acknowledged that they would not be able to sign a recently concluded agreement on civil nuclear cooperation till necessary formalities are completed.

The path forward will only be cleared once India signs a safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) to change its rules to allow global nuclear commerce with New Delhi.

Sarkozy offered to help in evolving a "European and international consensus" to allow for a change in NSG guidelines.

Besides, he reiterated France's support for India to get a permanent seat at the United Nations Security Council and also at other elite global platforms like the G-8.

Sarkozy also went on a charm offensive at a business event Friday evening, when he spoke "from the heart" and announced "France is India's best friend".

He began the second day of the visit as the guest of honour at the Republic Day parade in the Indian capital. He drove down the main avenue from the Rashtrapati Bhawan, the presidential palace, along with President Pratibha Devisingh Patil, India's first female head of state - their limousine accompanied by resplendent members of the President's Bodyguards riding their well-groomed horses.

After spending nearly two hours at Rajpath, he left for his date at the Taj Mahal, the 17th century monument of love in Agra.

Model-turned-singer Carla Bruni, who did not accompany Sarkozy for the visit, was widely tipped to join him at least for this part of the tour, but she disappointed the photographers and reporters who had been waiting outside the monument for hours.

The Taj Mahal was closed to visitors while Sarkozy was taken around the monument, accompanied by experts of the Archaeological Survey of India.

He returned here late afternoon for the At Home reception hosted by President Patil on the lawns of the Rashtrapati Bhawan, where he arrived 30 minutes late but more than made up by mingling enthusiastically with all invitees.

After a farewell with Patil, Sarkozy wrapped up his trip with an address to the French community here.