NEW DELHI: French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Monday he expected progress on a $12 billion deal to sell fighter jets to India, setting his hopes on changes promised by the newly installed government.
Fabius, the first Western minister to hold talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration, raised the slow-moving Rafale jet deal during talks with his Indian counterpart Sushma Swaraj in New Delhi.
“We are pretty confident in swift developments and it would be very important because stemming from this contract we can develop a large partnership in the domain of defence,” Fabius told a press conference.
He underscored that the new right-wing government, which swept to power in May with the strongest mandate in 30 years, was “keen on the efficiency and implementation of decisions”.
“The notion of efficiency in the new government approach is completely shared by us,” he added.
The reform-minded Modi has been widely courted by Western governments since his election in May, with his plans to open up the economy and spur economic growth raising hopes for foreign investors.
European governments and the United States boycotted him for a decade over religious riots which occurred while he was running his home state of Gujarat. They are now redoubling efforts to make up for lost time.
Japan, which has longstanding ties with Modi, is widely seen as the best poised to profit, but Fabius noted how he had been accommodated before European rivals.
Britain’s William Hague is expected in the next few weeks.
“It’s an honour,” Fabius told AFP. “It shows the depth of the ties between India and France.”
The deal to supply 126 Rafale fighter jets manufactured by Dassault Aviation has been under final negotiations since January 2012.
The complicated contract, which involves technology-sharing and the production of most of the planes in India, has been making slow progress through numerous stages of vetting and evaluation.
After meeting Foreign Minister Swaraj on the first of his two days in India, Fabius held talks with Defence and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley.
Jaitley raised hopes of improved defence procurement last week when he criticised the “slow pace of acquisition” and said there was a “good case for these processes to be expedited”.
India’s defence ministry has been beset by corruption allegations and deals often face years of delays before being finally signed.
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