Defence, n-power, business to dominate Sarkozy visit

Friday, December 3, 2010

PARIS/BANGALORE/NEW DELHI - Accompanied by seven senior ministers and top business honchos, French President Nicholas Sarkozy touches down in Bangalore Saturday morning on a four-day India visit, his second to the country, that is expected to be dominated by expanded cooperation in defence, nuclear power, sustainable development and culture.

Unlike last time, when he came alone, his model-turned-singer wife Carla Bruni is accompanying Sarkozy to India. A business delegation carrying some of the heavyweights of the French industry as well as a large press troupe are also coming with the president.

The highlight of the Bangalore leg of the visit will be Sarkozy’s visit to the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) Satellite Centre where he is expected to address 500 scientists, and officials from ISRO and other institutions, senior executives and students.

“It will highlight the burgeoning space cooperation between India and France,” said a senior official in New Delhi a day ahead of Sarkozy’s visit. The space cooperation will centre on two signature Indo-French space collaborative projects, the Megha Tropiques and SARAL.

Megha-Tropiques (Megha means cloud in Sanskrit and Tropiques in French means Tropics), that is being jointly developed by ISRO and French National Space Agency (CNES), is expected to be launched by 2011 and will enable the two sides to study tropical climate.

SARAL (Satellite for Argos and Altika), to be used for seasonal forecast, oceanography and climate studies, will also be launched next year.

Valerie Pecresse, the French minister for higher education and research who is accompanying Sarkozy, would formally open the new consulate in Bangalore Saturday, which will service the southern region.

All eyes will be on France’s first couple when they fly in the afternoon to Agra for their date with the Taj Mahal, that’s a favourite with visiting foreign leaders.

When he came to India in 2008 as the chief guest at the Republic Day function, Sarkozy did go to Agra. He is said to have made a pledge to bring Bruni to the Taj next time he visited the country.

He will be finally making good on that promise. The Sarkozys spend Saturday night in Agra and will also go to Fatehpur Sikri before flying to Delhi Sunday evening for dinner with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at his official residence.

Monday will be packed with back-to-back meetings, starting with Sarkozy’s meeting with delegation-level talks with Manmohan Singh.

The two sides are likely to sign some agreements related to space, technology, nuclear cooperation and culture after the talks.

Besides giving a fresh impetus to bilateral ties, Manmohan Singh and Sarkozy are expected to discuss global issues like reform of the international financial institutions, the G20 forum of major and emerging economies, climate change and non-proliferation.

The two sides are engaged in last-minute negotiations with a view to signing a framework agreement between French nuclear giant Areva and Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) for building two European Pressurized Reactors (EPR). The framework accord is expected to lay down broad rules for Areva building two nuclear reactors initially, which will eventually increase to six in number.

The last day of Sarkozy’s visit will be dominated by business as he heads to Mumbai Tuesday.

In a sign of solidarity with India, the French president will first visit the Mumbai Police Memorial in memory of the victims of the 2008 terror attacks. He will also address a ceremony being organised at the Oberoi Hotels in Mumbai in the presence of the families of the French victims of the attack and local personalities from Mumbai.

On this occasion, Sarkozy will also confer French honours on Devendra Bharma, executive vice-president of the Oberoi, and Karambir Kang, general manager of the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower Hotel.

Sarkozy will deliver the valedictory address at the Indo-French Business Meet which is expected to be attended by over 300 business leaders from both sides at the Taj Mahal hotel. Sarkozy will leave for Paris the same afternoon.

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