France, India sign nuclear deal as Sarkozy visits Delhi
France firmed up a 9.3-billion-dollar deal to sell two nuclear reactors to India on Monday following talks between French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
India signed a "framework agreement" with France's state-run nuclear group Areva for the purchase of two reactors for a new plant in Jaitapur in the western state of Maharashtra.
"Negotiations (with Areva) have reached an advanced stage to pave the way for the launching of nuclear power reactors in Jaitapur in partnership with Indian industry," Singh told a joint press conference.
The deal is short of a final sale agreement, but it means Arena has moved ahead of competitors from the United States and Japan in the race to sell reactors to India, which is investing heavily in atomic energy.
Russia is already constructing two nuclear power units in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu.
The Maharashtra plant is set to ultimately have six reactors, but the first two are worth 7.0 billion euros (9.3 billion dollars), according to the French presidency.
Sarkozy is on a four-day trip to India, where he is seeking deeper trade ties while acknowledging his hosts' increased role on the world stage.
British Prime Minister David Cameron and US President Barack Obama have both swept through India with similar messages recently, as Western nations look for export opportunities in a fast-growing country seen as a natural ally in Asia.
Sarkozy heads a delegation of six ministers and around 70 chief executives, including the bosses of aircraft and defence groups Dassault Aviation and EADS. France recently took over the presidency of the G20 group of developed and major developing economic powers and Sarkozy sought support for his agenda, while also strongly backing a more influential role for India in world affairs.
He reiterated his support for India to have a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council -- a key foreign policy objective for New Delhi -- and suggested it might simply transform its current temporary seat in 2012.
According to the French presidency, Singh has pledged his "support" for Sarkozy's G20 programme, which includes overhauling the global monetary system and combating commodity price volatility.
France is also seeking a slice of the billions of dollars earmarked by India for a military upgrade, but competition is fierce among foreign arms manufacturers and no contracts were signed on Monday.
The president and his wife Carla Bruni, a singer and former model, went sight-seeing at the ancient city of Fatehpur Sikri on Sunday after a romantic sunset visit to the Taj Mahal on Saturday.
The French leader last visited India in 2008, just before he married Bruni, and he vowed then to return with her to see the Taj Mahal, located in the city of Agra 200 kilometres (120 miles) from Delhi.
"It was Bruni's first visit to the Taj and she seemed completely floored by what she saw," the Times of India reported on Sunday.
Bruni, who is a goodwill ambassador for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, is expected to visit an AIDS project on Monday.
Sarkozy began his trip in the southern city of Bangalore, a major technology centre.
On Monday, India and France also signed agreements to cooperate more closely in space -- the countries are to jointly launch satellites to monitor the climate and oceans next year -- and arts and culture.
Sarkozy completes his tour on Tuesday with a trip to Mumbai, India's commercial capital that was hit by Islamist militant attacks two years ago in which 166 people were killed.
Sarkozy's visit comes between that of US President Barack Obama last month and ahead of trips to India by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.
© 2010 AFP