France keen on closer military ties with India

Monday, October 18, 2010

NEW DELHI - Ahead of French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s India visit in December, Paris is eyeing closer strategic and military ties with New Delhi. And towards this, the French Navy has promised to bring its nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle for a joint exercise with the Indian Navy, France’s military chief Admiral Edouard Guillaud said Monday.

Guillaud, the French chief of defence staff who was here on a four-day trip, said his country considers strategic partnership with India essential for global and regional affairs.

India and France face common challenges of terrorism. We (India and France) share similar ideals of freedom, better balance of world and better stability in the region. Our President Nicolas Sarkozys visit in December will strengthen this essential partnership, Guillaud said.

He was speaking to reporters after a day of hectic meetings with Defence Minister A.K. Antony and National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon aimed at pushing forward pending defence deals between the two countries.

Guillaud also met Indian Air Force (IAF) head Air Chief Marshal P.V. Naik, Indian Navy chief Admiral Nirmal Verma and Indian Army chief General V.K. Singh. But he refused to give details of the meeting, and said India and France will open a strategic dialogue next week before Sarkozys trip.

He said the two countries want greater military to military cooperation and the navies of India and France would conduct the annual bilateral exercise, Varuna 2010.

He said the French Navy will dock the 38,000-tonne Charles De Gaulle off the Indian coast for the joint drill, but refused to share more inputs about it. The carrier has participated in the exercise earlier in 2006.

Guillaud leaves home Tuesday after a trip to Mumbai’s Mazagon Docks where French-designed Scorpene submarines are under construction, sources said.

The nuclear subs being constructed as per a $4 billion deal of 2005 are behind schedule by over two years due to delays in the supply of supplementary parts at the Indian shipyard.

During Sarkozy’s visit, India and France are likely to sign a $2-billion contract for the uprgadation and modernisation of 51 Mirage 2000-H fighter jets. India had purchased Mirage 2000s nearly three decades ago.

France is also eyeing India’s $10 billion contract for 126 fighter bombers, for which Dassault Aviation is in contention for its Rafale jets.

During Sarkozy’s visit the two countries may also finalise a contract with nuclear group Areva that has already signed a memorandum of understanding for the construction of two reactors at Jaitapur in Maharashtra.

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