India's Foreign secretary, Ranjan Mathai, was in Paris for foreign office consultations. He met the French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius on Monday. He also spoke to HT about other key foreign policy matters.
An agreement was signed between India and France for the waiver of visas for diplomatic passports for short term visits. This was cleared by the Indian cabinet recently. Mr Mathai said that the relationship with France is one of India's critical relations and that India is now very high in their priorities as well. President Hollande's visit to India soon after he assumed office was a clear indicator of France's keen interest in India. Mr Mathai said the "classical pillars of Indo-French partnership" were Defence, Nuclear, Space, political dialogue and counter terrorism.
Dassault had expressed concerns about HAL's (Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd) capacity to deliver on time. As per the conditions of the Request for proposal (RFP), Dassault would deliver the first 18 aircrafts, HAL would manufacture the next batch of 108 but Dassault would be responsible for the final product. Dassault, however, were not happy with what they saw in their investigation of HAL's past record. India has been asking for one and not two separate contracts.
The Foreign Secretary said "Our own consultations at home have shown that both sides, Dassault and HAL, hadn't really thought through this question which is clear in the strict meaning of the RFP which they had read. It's the feeling that now that they have discussed this so much more they are much closer to an understanding of where they stand so we feel that it's possible to make progress."
Asked if Dassault had withdrawn their demand to have the Ambanis as their preferred partner in India, Mr Mathai said he was not aware that there was a demand they should be dropped. He said, "Who their other partners are is not an issue. They are a total of 18 partners with whom they will be signing their own contracts. But they have to find a way so that as the main contractor they are liable and responsible for the aircraft and the delivery but HAL is going to be the agent that will work with them in India to deliver it. I think that now they have had so many rounds of discussions, they understand each other a lot better. So the potential for progress is very good."
Last week, the CEO of Dassault Aviation, Eric Trappier, said in Paris that he was confident about the sale of the Rafale to India by the end of 2013. Mr. Mathai said the tone has changed because some of the issues were there because the discussions hadn't taken place and now the problem is on its way to resolution.
Short ranged surface to air missiles
On the SRCAM, Mr Mathai said, the internal process was going on in India and once that is over India intends to go ahead with this project too. "These will be very large projects with France and will be requiring very intense engagement of an industrial, defence and therefore political nature over a very long period of time."
Jaitapur civil nucelar project
According to the Foreign Secreatry, India feels the need for a more intensive engagement between governments to take matters forward. "There are still a number of issues which we need to resolve relating to overall cost of the project. I did convey is that we will be laying a lot of attention to getting these resolved so that we can go ahead and on both sides there is a feeling that we need to deal with it from a slightly higher perspective because so far a lot of has been discussed between AREVA and NPCIL. The DEA has also been involved. We think now that we need to see why is it that some of the issues we haven't been able to resolve and see whether more people should be involved."
The french side brought up the question of nuclear liability. Mr Ranjan Mathai said, "We had already had some fairly intensive dialogues with other countries. We have it with France also. We will discuss it bilaterally with them. The fact is that it is our law but we have been saying that within the four corners of that law we will do whatever we can to address any issues and concerns the french might have." Mr Mathai said France could send a group of layers to look into the legal aspects, just as the US did recent. "At the end of the day irrespective of who the partner is they will have to realize that finally it's the courts of law that decide and that's true anywhere in the world", he added.
EU- India free trade agreement
EU and India have not been able to resolve their numerous differences in the long drawn negotiations over the signing of a free trade agreement. Europe wants India to open up the services sector which requires the insurance bill to go through the Indian Parliament. When asked about the problem EU has with providing India the status of "data-secure country", Mr Mathai said, "It is quite a big issue from our point of view because we say we get that kind of a status without any specific designation from the US. Irrespective of what they call it, they can give the same facility here, the same acceptance of our status."
Mr Ranjan Mathai said "An agreement with a partner like India needs a strategic calculus rather each little point getting dealt with, in the sense that it is imp for India and the EU, major players, democracies, committed to a certain way of multilateral order, to actually now finalize this and move on.
India bid for membership for nsg and security council
Mr Ranjan Mathai said things are moving along but there hasn't been any real progress on India's entry into the UN security council. On the export control regimes, he said, "France reiterated it's very strong support to India which is important for us bec there are other countries who haven't come on board to the same extent. But we will continue our dialogue. In fact I will probably we having another outreach meeting with the NSG very soon."
China "string of pearls"
Asked whether China's string of pearls program, where they are working on several maritime locations in India's neighborhood was a cause for worry Mr Mathai said, "It's certainly something you take into your strategic calculus. But like my predecessor said, 'a string of pearls doesn't sound like a lethal weapon'. The stated reason for the presence in these is commercial. The potential for a commercial facilility to used for other purposes always exists but right now it would appear that this is the main purpose their intention.We are aware of it and we do calculate that we need to keep it in mind.
The Indian foreign secretary brushed aside the question of India's position on US surveillance. He said, "There is an assumption among some of our pple that they've always assumed that someone is spying and don't rule out anybody. Is it a completely baffling issue that someone is reading your mails and tapping your phones?"