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Defence, city development, tourism discussed between PM Modi and French FM

Seeking to give a greater momentum to their strategic relationship, India and France on Sunday discussed a wide spectrum of issues, including defence and terrorism, with the French side saying the bilateral ties should move forward with the speed of a Rafale fighter jet. During the talks between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and French Minister for Foreign Affairs Jean-Marc Ayrault in Bengaluru, both leaders had “considerable” discussions on international terrorism of which the two countries are victims.

“I spoke about different aspects of our partnership,” Ayrault told reporters in Bengaluru on the sidelines of a function after his meeting with Modi, who was here to attend the 14th edition of the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, the Centre’s outreach programme for overseas Indians. The French minister, who began his three-day visit to India from here, said: “We spoke about defence because India needs to protect itself. Therefore, defence is an important area. I also shared with him concerns about terrorism and how we are together in fighting it.”

Noting that India has various defence needs, for example Rafale, he said, “It needs submarines, it needs helicopters. So we did discuss all of these.” In September last year, India had inked a Euro 7.87 billion (about Rs 59,000 crore) deal with France for purchase of 36 Rafale fighter jets capable of carrying nuclear weapons and equipped with latest missiles that will give the IAF greater “potency” over arch rival Pakistan. In his media briefing, Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Vikas Swaroop said Ayrault and Modi reaffirmed close strategic partnerships between the two countries and deliberated upon several issues including bilateral relations in defence and international terrorism. “The PM of India today welcomed the French Foreign Affairs Minister on his first visit to India. Both sides reaffirmed close strategic partnerships between India and France, which will be seen as a further fillip for the closure of Rafale deal,” he said on the sidelines of the three-day Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, now on here.

The French Minister said “the bilateral ties should now move forward with a speed of Rafale,” according to Swarup. Swaroop also said both the leaders had a comprehensive drill on bilateral relations in defence and Modi reiterated upon “Make In India” slogan in defence. The two leaders discussed about the cooperation in civil energy with specific reference to Jaitapur nuclear plant, he said. On economic aspects, Swaroop said the French Foreign Minister spoke about the 20 billion Euros investment in India by French companies and he was looking forward to his participation in a Gujarat event (Vibrant Gujarat Global Summit) which would provide further opportunity for French companies to invest in India.

The two leaders also discussed French participation in sustainable development of Indian cities, where more than 60 French firms are working in sectors including transport and water. Swaroop also said the French Minister reiterated the French support for India’s Nuclear Suppliers Group membership and permanent membership of UNSC. “There was considerable discussion between two sides on international terrorism as we know both India and France are victims of terrorism…,” he said. Ayrault said he and Modi also spoke about civil nuclear energy because it can contribute to India’s energy mix as the Indian Prime Minister has made a commitment to the Paris climate agreement. Besides, space, another area of cooperation between the two countries as also the economic aspects of the Indo-French partnership and “multiple aspects of our investment” were covered during the talks, he said.

The issue of French companies investing in India in various domains like smart city, transport, energy, waste management and automobile was discussed, he said. “We spoke about multiple aspects of our investment. Many French companies are present in India. We would also like Indian companies to invest in France. We must have the principle of reciprocity,” he said. Ayrault said he would meet Modi again on Tuesday, when he would attend the “Vibrant Gujarat Global Summit” in Ahmedabad. France is a partner country of the Summit. The French minister, who began his visit to the country’s IT hub by going to a temple and Russel Market, an old landmark in the city, also highlighted the cultural aspects of the relationship between India and France.

At Alliance Francaise, Ayrault launched the Bengaluru chapter of France Alumni network, a digital platform to connect foreign students who have studied French in higher education institutes. The network would help alumni acquire key industry knowledge and explore career opportunities. Ayrault said 4,000 Indian students had come to France in 2016 “which is a low number” and he had set an “ambitious goal” to take it to 10,000 by 2020. Swaroop said Modi also met Surinam Vice President Ashwin Adhin and discussed issues relating to various sectors such as agriculture, animal husbandry, palm oil and wood processing for improving bilateral cooperation. Adhin said he saw considerable potential in Ayurveda in Surinam and sought India’s help to create an eco-system for propagation of Ayurveda and turn the country into Ayurveda capital, Swaroop said.

He said that Adhin also sought investments in various sectors such as pharmaceuticals and mining. He said Adhin sought an early meeting of India-Surinam joint commission to take forward bilateral cooperation. The two leaders also discussed global issues such as UNSC and Adhin reaffirmed Surinam’s support to India for its permanent membership. The Prime Minister also met Malaysian Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr S Subramaniam and discussed about some bilateral issues. They also discussed about Modi’s visit to Malaysia in 2015, Swaroop said. He said the Prime Minister is looking forward to the Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak’s visit to India.