India-France strategic ties to be stepped up: Pranab
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India-France strategic ties to be stepped up: Pranab

The defence minister says a slew of measures including joint production and transfer of technology will be taken.

india Updated: Sep 05, 2006 16:42 IST

India and France are to step up their strategic partnership to new levels through a slew of measures including joint production, co-production, transfer of technology and ready availability of spares, says Indian Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee.

Mukherjee, who is on a three-day visit to France, was on Monday also briefed on a new French project to combat air terrorism.

"There is greater degree of convergence of views on most matters," Mukherjee told reporters in Paris on Monday night after an hour-long meeting with his French counterpart, Michele Alliot-Marie.

"The details of the increased cooperation will be worked out between the officials and companies of the two countries in an expeditious manner," he added.

During the meeting, Mukherjee stressed the need for firming up transfer of technology for critical technological components such as the ring laser gyro and other guidance systems for the BrahMos cruise missile that India is jointly developing with Russia.

In his opening statement at the delegation level talks, Mukherjee said the full potential of Indo-French cooperation in the defence industries had not been fully exploited due to certain apprehensions about Paris' arms sales to China and Pakistan.

He spoke of the need for French investment in Indian defence industries for the European and the world market also, rather than the Indian market alone.

The two sides exchanged views on global hotspots such as Afghanistan, Iran and Lebanon in the context of Mukherjee's statement that the security situation had changed considerably since the last summit level meeting of the two countries in February.

On Afghanistan, Mukherjee said while India was committed to the economic development of the country and strengthening its democratic institutions, in recent times there have been certain "disturbing" developments in the form of the regrouping of the Taliban.

"The Taliban must not be allowed to grow," Mukherjee asserted.

On Iran, the defence minister said diplomacy should be given a chance to resolve the impasse over its nuclear programme.

"This approach may sometimes appear to be a painfully slow process but what is important is that a peaceful resolution to the problem needs to be found," Mukherjee maintained.

Turning to Lebanon, he said Indian troops would continue their peacekeeping operations in the war ravaged country after the mandate of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon was extended till February 2007.

"We believe that peace must be restored in Lebanon and tension must not be allowed to escalate. This needs restraint from both sides," he pointed out.

According to Mukherjee, global challenges like terrorism, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, piracy on the high seas, trafficking of arms and drugs and increasing levels of violence resorted to by non-state actors have to be jointly met "head-on".

"This belief leads India to actively work with friendly countries in regional and global security responsibilities. There is a need to consider the possibility of widening the initiative to cover sharing of information received from other maritime agencies with the aim of greater coordination in the event of piracy incidents and drug trafficking etc," he contended.

Mukherjee also appreciated the French support to India's candidature for a permanent seat in an expanded UN Security Council.

Earlier, Mukherjee was presented an inter-services guard of honour on his arrival at Hotel de Brienne, the headquarters of the French defence ministry.

On Monday morning, Mukherjee visited the French Air Defence and Air Operations Command (CDAOA) for a briefing on the strides made by European nations to confront the new threat posed by terrorists through the use of explosive laden aircraft.

Though a French defence ministry project, CDAOA is, in fact, a joint European mission conceived in the wake of the 9/11 terror strike.

"This is much more a European project than a national one," French officials pointed out.

At CDAOA, experts network satellite and other overhead surveillance systems like aerostat balloon radars with ground based radars and sensors to keep a pan-Europe eye on potential threats.

Mukherjee, who spent nearly two hours at the site, said such projects and research were of immense interest to India as New Delhi also faced such threats.

When officials said the response time given to react to such threats in Europe was seven minutes, Mukherjee responded that this could be even less in India.

French officials said the objective of Mukherjee's visit to the project was part of the effort to take friendly countries into confidence for evolving a system of sharing information of such threats in real time.

The officials also said France had moulded its just inducted Rafale multi-role combat aircraft along with Mirage-2000-5 into quick reaction aerial response teams to deal with airborne threats.

First Published: Sep 05, 2006 16:42 IST