France's Hollande begins India visit, says jet deal will ‘take time’

Money Sharma, AFP | French President François Hollande (left) and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Rock Garden in Chandigarh on January 24, 2016

French President François Hollande began a three-day visit to India on Sunday to boost a multibillion-dollar deal for France’s Rafale combat aircraft and work for closer cooperation on counterterrorism and clean energy.


Hollande landed in the northern city of Chandigarh, where he was greeted by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Designed in the 1950s by Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier, Chandigarh is one of three places that France has pledged to help develop as so-called "smart cities" – with clean water supplies, efficient sewage disposal and public transportation.

In Chandigarh, Hollande and French business leaders will meet with Indian counterparts to boost bilateral trade, which in 2014 stood at $8.6 billion. New Delhi is also trying to encourage French companies to tap into India's economic boom.

Hollande is accompanied by a high-profile delegation including the ministers of defence, foreign affairs, economy and culture and dozens of top corporate leaders.

The French president will travel to the Indian capital later Sunday. He will hold talks with Indian leaders on Monday and be a guest of honour on Tuesday at India's Republic Day parade, celebrating 66 years since the country adopted its constitution.

India’s foreign ministry said a French contingent would march alongside Indian troops during the parade, in a “first-of-its-kind gesture”.

"There has been no occasion in the past when foreign troops participated in the march […]. However, you will recall that in 2009, the Indian troops participated in Bastille Day celebrations in France," ministry spokesman Vikas Swarup told local media.

Rafale deal on 'right track'

High on the agenda of Hollande’s visit is India's desire to purchase 36 Rafale combat planes for its air force, which Modi had announced during a visit to Paris in April, touching off several rounds of negotiations over pricing, offsets and servicing.

In an interview with the Press Trust of India news agency, Hollande hinted it might take some more time to sign the deal.

Rafale: pride of French military industry

"Agreeing on the technicalities of this arrangement obviously takes time, but we are on the right track," PTI quoted Hollande as saying.

France has also promised support for India's clean-energy quest, including a solar energy alliance launched last month during the global climate talks held in Paris.

"Our bilateral relationship with France is very comprehensive,” said India’s Swarup. “It covers number of sectors such as defense, civil nuclear cooperation, railways, smart cities, science and research, space and culture. In all these areas we expect some forward progress during the French president's visit."

The two sides are also expected to touch on anti-terrorism efforts including speeding up extradition requests and cracking down on money laundering used to fund militant activities.

Swarup noted that both countries had been hit by terrorism recently, with 130 people killed across Paris on Nov. 13 and a four-day siege against the north Indian air force base of Pathankot this month in which seven Indian soldiers were killed.

(FRANCE 24 with AP)

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