India to seek out France's nuclear backing

1st September 2006, Comments 0 comments

NEW DELHI, Sept 1, 2006 (AFP) - India's defence minister flies to Europe Sunday seeking closer ties with Germany and the backing of France to remove remaining Western sanctions on its military nuclear programme, officials said.

NEW DELHI, Sept 1, 2006 (AFP) - India's defence minister flies to Europe Sunday seeking closer ties with Germany and the backing of France to remove remaining Western sanctions on its military nuclear programme, officials said.

Pranab Mukherjee first holds talks in Paris on Monday with his French counterpart Michèle Alliot-Marie, the defence ministry said.

"The visit assumes significance, in the context of the current global security scenario and the desire of India to broad-base its defence cooperation with various countries," ministry spokesman Sitanshu Kar said.

Kar said Mukherjee will also take part in a roundtable with CEO's of leading French armament firms which are vying for plum military contracts in India, the world's largest defence hardware purchaser.

Government sources noted that Mukehrjee's three-day stay in Paris follows French President Jacques Chirac's state visit to India in February when the two sides signed nine agreements.

"Mukherjee and his counterpart will review the progress of the Indo-France agreement on defence as well as the declaration on peaceful use of nuclear energy signed during president Chirac's trip," a senior defence ministry official told AFP.

The agreement expanded existing ties in defence industries, research, joint exercises, exchanges and training.

Indian officials said Mukherjee will also seek French support for New Delhi's campaign for the lifting of the last US-led nuclear sanctions.

"That's one of the important items on the agenda," the official said, on condition of anonymity.

Western nations, barring France, imposed a range of sanctions after India conducted nuclear weapons tests in 1998 and although most of the restrictions have been removed, New Delhi insists all must go.

French state shipbuilder DCN last year won a contract to sell six Franco-Spanish submarines worth 2.4 billion euros (three billion dollars) to the Indian navy.

European diplomatic sources said while in Germany Mukherjee is likely to sign an agreement on bilateral military cooperation to signal the end to Indian restrictions on military trade which were imposed almost a decade ago.

The restrictions were gradually removed after Germany sought closer defence ties with India in August 2005 and following Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Hannover earlier this year.

Mukherjee's trip to Bonn coincides with talks in New Delhi with German armament firm, Rheinmetall Waffe Munition GmBH Armin, on the possible supply of latest artillery ammunition, tanks and electronic systems.

The defence minister's visit to Bonn, however, will be clouded by the embarrassing recent recall of Indian military attache in Bonn, P. C. Panjikar, for his alleged involvement with German armaments firms.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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