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India, France 'close' to N-deal: Chirac

France is close to reaching a civilian N-agreement with India but feels that 'more work' is required on both sides.

india Updated: Feb 16, 2006 19:31 IST

France is "close" to reaching an agreement with India on civil nuclear cooperation but feels that "more work" is required on both sides, French President Jacques Chirac has said ahead of his visit here.

He also said recognition of a special status for India in the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) is a "priority" to France.

Chirac, who arrives here on February 19 on a three-day State visit, in an interview to Prabhu Chawla of "India Today" magazine voiced Paris' support to India on modifying NSG rules.

Asked about the controversy over the Arcelor case, he said the company willing to takeover was a Dutch company, not an Indian one.

"The problem has nothing to do with LN Mittal. It is a Dutch company and Arcelor is a Luxembourg company. It has nothing to do with France and India.

Observing that the French Government is a "stakeholder, not a shareholder", he said "given the circumstances of the case, it would appear that it is not in the best interest of the company."

He stated this on being asked if shareholders' interest were better understood, would he have any objection to the bid.

On the nuclear issue, he said France was the first country to argue at international level in favour of India, as a responsbile power, gaining access to civilian nuclear technologies.

He said "recognition of a special status for India with respect to the NSG is a priority for us. We are close to reaching an agreement, but more work is required on both sides".

Asked why there was delay in the agreement since he considered India responsible, he said, "Because it is a multilateral issue, France stands firmly alongside India, a responsible power, in this question of modifying rules of the NSG.

"It is only if these modifications are allowed that we can reconcile our aim to cooperate in this area with the constraints imposed by our international undertakings. But before that, India must have a specific status with respect to the NSG to allow it access to the necessary technologies while respecting the principle of non-proliferation," he said.

Chirac said France has been trying for many years to persuade other members of the NSG.

"The main person who had to be persuaded was Bush but if we have to move forward, we still have to make efforts in the NSG and France is working on it," he said.

73-year old Chirac, who is undertaking his second visit to India as President after a gap of eight years, said the two countries have all the assets required to build a "special partnership in every possible field".

Asked whether the Clemenceau controversy could have been avoided, he said the French Administrative Court has ruled the export of the warship to India be suspended.

"I have decided that the ship should be brought back to France and a final solution found for its dismantling," he said.

On bilateral economic ties, he said one of the purposes of his trip was to provide a boost to economic cooperation. He said tariff and non-tariff barriers still hampered exports of certain French products like wine.

Sectors such as distributive trades and financial services were still comparatively closed to foreign capital.

"Progress in these fields would facilitate strengthening of our relations," he said.

The French President said he was "appalled" by what happened as a result of the publication of the recent offensive cartoons caricaturing Prophet Mohammad.

"I am, of course, in favour of the freedom of the press, which is a pillar of democracy. But I am equally for respecting everyone's sensibilities," he said.

On the Iran nuclear issue, he said France was in close consultation with India and all partners, with the aim to persuading Tehran to comply fully with its obligations of non-proliferation.

First Published: Feb 16, 2006 19:31 IST