French President Francois Hollande indicated on Sunday a long-awaited $9 billion deal for three dozen Rafale warplanes to India may not be clinched soon even as the two countries pledged increased cooperation to combat terror and climate change.
Hollande, who will be the chief guest at the Republic Day celebrations in Delhi, said he was “rather optimistic” an agreement over the aircraft would be signed on Monday as he began a three-day visit to India in Chandigarh where he was greeted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
“We are going to take another step on the road which we hope will lead us to India’s acquisition of the 36 Rafale jets,” the French President told reporters. “India needs them and France has shown that it has the world’s best aircraft. The commercial contract can only come after the inter-governmental accord... which will be discussed during my visit.”
The deal is expected to come up when Hollande and Modi hold talks on Monday as negotiations have dragged on under two successive governments with New Delhi’s insistence that at least 30% of the construction be done on Indian soil emerging as a key sticking point.
Indian and French companies signed 16 pacts at a business summit after Hollande touched down in Chandigarh, a city designed by Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier.
Speaking at the conference, Hollande said one of the main agendas of his visit was to foster ties between Paris and New Delhi to tackle terrorism as both were affected by the menace.
“I will talk about two (things): first, security, because we are affected by regional crisis and also terrorism. Both countries have been hit. So together we will increase our exchanges, cooperation between services and act to reinforce our military equipment. It is part of the agenda for this trip,” he said.
“Following the success of the 2015 Paris climate conference in December, we are going to translate our common drive to implement as fast as possible the Paris agreement in launching here the solar alliance.”
Modi said he had invited Hollande as a show of solidarity after last year’s shootings and bombings by Islamic terrorists in Paris that killed 130 and evoked memories of the 26/11 Mumbai attacks of 2008.
“The day Paris was hit by terror, I decided that our Republic Day parade guest must be France as our people are united against the enemies of humanity,” the PM said in his speech.
The two countires are also discussing a plan by French nuclear company Areva to build six reactors in western India, as part of a push to ramp up nuclear capacity.
Hollande said India and France have over the years had the willingness to work in the same direction beyond the strategic partnership.
“It is an epic adventure, where our companies, which are numerous here, will be welcomed in India first in line. Besides, numerous job opportunities are also in line during this trip on top of the diplomatic, political and military agenda,” he added.
Earlier, Modi and Hollande met at the iconic Rock Garden where they greeted each other with a warm hug.
“A warm welcome to French President @fhollande. We are honoured & delighted to have him as the Chief Guest for Republic Day celebrations,” the Prime Minister tweeted. “President @fhollande & I will meet in Chandigarh & Delhi. We will build on the ground covered during our previous interactions.”
(With inputs from agencies)