Amid the ongoing war of words between the Narendra Modi government and the Congress party over the Rafale aircraft deal, France on Friday described the Rafale and Scorpene submarine agreements as important dimensions of its strategic partnership with India.
Addressing a press conference with External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj after their wide-ranging talks, French Minister of Europe and Foreign Affairs Jean-Yves Le Drian said Paris keenly desired to pursue and further strengthen the exceptional strategic partnership that has united India and France since 1998.
While refusing to comment on the domestic political discourse in India over the Rafale deal, French officials accompanying the minister asserted that the jets were selected for the Indian Air Force (IAF) through a transparent procedure for their outstanding performance and competitive price.
The remarks are significant in the backdrop of the Congress’s allegation that the government had favoured a top Indian industrialist in procuring the Rafale aircraft from French company Dassault.
The French Foreign Minister also announced that President Emmanuel Macron would visit India early next year during the International Solar Alliance Summit.
Swaraj, in her remarks to the media, said India and France had agreed to cooperate on the security architecture of the Indian Ocean region. “In terms of maritime security, both sides discussed increasing cooperation in the Indian Ocean region where the presence of India and France is very important,” she said.
Swaraj said this cooperation was aimed at ensuring unhindered trade and movement and security of the international sea lanes, fighting maritime terrorism and piracy, creating awareness about the oceanic region, building capacities on regional and international platforms and increasing coordination at the official level.
Stating that both India and France were for a multi-polar world, she said defence and security cooperation, space cooperation and civil nuclear cooperation formed the three pillars of the bilateral relationship. She said both sides also agreed to make their military logistics stronger. “France has been a partner in our space programme from the very beginning,” she said.
In terms of civil nuclear cooperation, the Indian minister said both sides agreed on an early start to the work on the Jaitapur Nuclear Power Plant (JNPP).
Swaraj said France has supported India’s bid for membership in the UN Security Council as in the Multilateral Export Control Control Regime that includes the Nuclear Suppliers Group, the Australia Group and the Wassenaar Arrangement.
“We have also agreed to further strengthen our cooperation, both at the bilateral and multilateral levels, in the fight against terrorism. We have appealed to all countries in the world to unitedly oppose those countries which finance and provide safe havens to terrorists,” she said.