Sarkozy pushes defence deals, better ties with India

25th January 2008, Comments 0 comments

Nicolas Sarkozy on a state visit aimed at boosting political ties, pushing for a bigger share of the booming Asian economy and revitalising weapons sales.

   NEW DELHI, January 25, 2008  - French President Nicolas Sarkozy was in
India Friday on a state visit aimed at boosting political ties, pushing for a
bigger share of the booming Asian economy and revitalising weapons sales.
   Defence contracts were high on the agenda, with France lobbying hard in a
country ranked as the biggest weapons buyer among emerging nations, and
expected to spend an estimated 30 billion dollars over the next five years.
   France was the second largest arms supplier to India after Russia but has
now been overtaken by Israel.
   Sarkozy jetted into New Delhi without girlfriend Carla Bruni, although
French and Indian media have speculated that the ex-supermodel and pop singer
may join him on Saturday for a private visit to the Taj Mahal, India's famed
17th century monument to love.
   In talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the president will be hoping
to revive a Eurocopter bid for a 600-million-dollar (410-million-euro)
helicopter contract that New Delhi cancelled in December.
   Indian defence sources said Eurocopter used a local go-between despite an
Indian ban on middlemen in defence deals. India is to float a new tender and
Eurocopter plans to bid again.
   "I regret that this did not go through, but obviously I respect the
decision of the Indian authorities," Sarkozy said in an email interview with
the Hindustan Times.
   However, French firms are expected to be invited to upgrade India's fleet
of Mirage fighters in a contract worth up to 1.5 billion euros -- and they are
also set to compete in a tender for 126 war planes.
   Talks will also touch on a nuclear cooperation agreement that has been in
the works for years to allow France to supply equipment and fuel to India once
it has cleared hurdles with the UN's nuclear watchdog.
   India, home to 1.1 billion people and with an economy expanding by nine
percent annually, has identified atomic energy as a crucial element to
sustained growth.
   "We are on the verge of finding an agreement which will enable the
development of civilian nuclear cooperation with India," Sarkozy was quoted as
   Because of nuclear weapons tests in 1974 and 1998 India is currently banned
from buying fuel for atomic reactors and related equipment.
   The French deal hinges on the outcome of negotiations between India and the
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and with the 45-nation Nuclear
Suppliers Group, which controls the global nuclear trade.
   The United States and Russia are also competing for a place in that market,
just as they are for military contracts.
   While the deals are expected to fall far short of the 30-billion-dollar
trade bonanza Sarkozy signed recently in China, French diplomats are hoping
for a fresh boost to ties.
   Sarkozy is also lined up for meetings with President Pratibha Patil and
Hindu nationalist opposition leader Lal Krishna Advani, and on Saturday he
will be guest of honour at India's annual Republic Day parade.
   The Indian foreign ministry said the visit would yield agreements "in the
fields of defence, railways, science and technology and education."
   Sarkozy's trip has been the subject of intense speculation in the Indian
and French press over whether girlfriend Bruni would accompany him.
   "As far as the delegation list that we have received, she is not coming,"
Indian foreign ministry spokesman Navtej Sarna told reporters.
   He added, however, that Sarkozy was lined up to make a private visit to the
Taj Mahal, prompting fresh speculation Bruni may be visiting despite a
reported denial.
   A senior Indian foreign ministry source had said Indian diplomats have been
in a protocol quandary over how to treat Bruni.
   In October, Sarkozy became the first French president to divorce while in
office when he ended his stormy 11-year marriage to his second wife Cecilia.


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