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Hollande promise on Rafale

New Delhi, Feb. 14: French President Francois Hollande has committed to transparency in the Rafale combat aircraft deal that France hopes to conclude with India soon.

The visiting French leader, while answering a question in the context of alleged kickbacks in the purchase of helicopters from AugustaWestland, said: “I can take a commitment that nothing contrary to the principles and rules of trade will be done. Choices have to be made on the basis of competence and competition, and we must remain always vigilant against corruption.”

Hollande was taking questions at the end of a day packed with meetings, including a summit session with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

The French President said there had been progress on concluding the Rafale purchase —a $15-billion-plus deal for upwards of 126 fighter aircraft — but declined to put a timeline on it. “I recommend the Rafale not only because it is a French product but because it is an excellent one, probably the best, there is no argument about it. I have put my weight behind it but I cannot stand in on the commercial aspects of the deal, they have to be conducted separately, I only hope we are able to close the negotiations at an early date.”

The French side also remains hopeful of a deal on the controversial Jaitapur nuclear power plant, which has been dogged by delays owing to several factors, including local protests and concerns over safety clauses.

A joint statement issued at the conclusion of summit talks noted that both sides had reviewed the status of techno-commercial negotiations and hoped for an “expeditious conclusion”. It also flagged safety concerns saying: “It was emphasised that the nuclear power plant at Jaitapur would incorporate the highest safety standards. ”

Hollande said he was looking to further open Indo-French relations, especially in the business sector, and “make it as broad as possible…. We do a lot of business in India but I find that we are only the ninth largest investor. I also want to ask Indian businesses to invest in France”.

He also thanked India for supporting France’s military intervention against Islamist terror outfits in Mali and repeated France’s support to India’s claim for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council.

India and France signed a slew of agreements on co-operation in education, culture, space and railways during Hollande’s two-day visit that concludes in Mumbai tomorrow.