French defence minister in India to push Rafale jet deal
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French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian is due to hold talks with his Indian counterpart Tuesday in a fresh push to finalise a deal to sell 126 French Rafale fighter jets to New Delhi after a three-year-long wait.
Le Drian will meet Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar on a brief visit to New Delhi aimed at preventing the collapse of the sale, which has been dragging on for three years and now faces new questions over cost.
France is hoping to salvage the deal ahead of a visit to Paris by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in April.
French company Dassault Aviation won the rights in January 2012 to enter exclusive negotiations with India to supply 126 of the fighters, with experts saying a final deal could be worth $12 billion.
Dassault would supply 18 of the twin-engine fighters later this year while the remaining 108 would be made by state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd under technology transfer agreements with India.
But negotiations have proved fraught both under Modi's government and its predecessor, while an Indian committee looking into the deal has reportedly found that the French offer was not the cheapest option for Delhi.
France's defence ministry has said Tuesday's visit will give both countries a chance to discuss "international affairs and defence industry issues", but there is little doubt the Rafale deal will dominate proceedings.
Modi's right-wing government, which won power in elections last May, has been blowing hot and cold about the progress of discussions.
A defence ministry spokesman said during Le Drian's visit last December that outstanding differences "would be resolved in a fast-track manner".
But the Indian government has also commissioned a report about the project costs, adding yet more uncertainty.
Speaking at an air show in Bangalore last week, Parrikar said he expected the contract negotiation committee (CNC) to submit its report within weeks.
"I have asked the CNC to speed up the process of completion of the report for us to take a decision on the acquisition of the Rafale," he told reporters.
Le Drian arrived in New Delhi late Monday and will leave Tuesday afternoon after meeting with Parrikar.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)