Nirmala Sitharaman to begin three-day visit to France tomorrow
Defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman will begin a three-day visit to France on Thursday during which both sides are expected to deliberate on further boosting their already close defence and security ties.
Sitharaman’s visit comes in the backdrop of a huge controversy over the procurement of 36 Rafale jets from French aerospace major Dassault Aviation.
Officials sources said Sitharaman will hold wide-ranging talks with her French counterpart Florence Parly on ways to deepen strategic cooperation between the two countries and also deliberate on major regional and global issues of mutual interests.
They said Sitharaman will also take stock of progress in the supply of 36 Rafale jets by Dassault to the Indian Air Force under a Rs 58,000 crore deal. There was indication that she may even visit the facility where the jets are being manufactured.
In their talks, Sitharaman and Parly are expected to deliberate on joint production of military platforms and weapons by the two countries.
Earlier this year, France was pitching for starting negotiations for procurement of another batch of 36 Rafale jets by India. However, New Delhi was not keen on pursuing it.
In April, the Indian Air Force started the process to acquire a fleet of 114 fighter jets and Dassault Aviation has emerged as one of the key contenders for the contract.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced the procurement of a batch of 36 Rafale jets after talks with the then French President Francois Hollande on April 10, 2015 in Paris. The final deal was sealed on September 23, 2016.
The Congress has been alleging massive irregularities in the deal, saying the government was procuring each aircraft at a cost of over Rs 1,670 crore as against Rs 526 crore finalised by the UPA government when it was negotiating the deal.
The Congress has also been targeting the government over selection of Reliance Defence as an offset partner for Dassault. Last month, Hollande was quoted by French publication ‘Mediapart’ as saying that France was given “no choice” on selection of the Indian partner for Dassault and the Indian government proposed the name of Reliance to partner with the French aerospace giant.
The former French president’s comments triggered a massive political row.
The government has vehemently rejected the allegations and asserted that it did not have any role in the selection of Reliance Defence. Sources said Sitharaman will discuss with Parly ways to expand Indo-French maritime security cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region.
French President Emmanuel Macron had visited India in March during which the two countries decided to expand strategic ties and deepen counter-terror cooperation. The two sides also inked a strategic pact providing for the use of each other’s military facilities including opening naval bases to warships.
(The story has been published from a wire feed without any modifications to the text. Only the headline has been changed.)