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France deal sweetener

New Delhi, July 26: Eager to sign the $20-billion Rafale fighter jet deal, France is further sweetening its defence projects with India by offering to set up production facilities for exports to third countries.

But such an offer is unlikely to be immediately swallowed by the Indian defence establishment. France supplies military hardware — such as submarines — to both India and Pakistan.

French defence minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who is visiting New Delhi , today said India had found mention in a new strategic and defence policy adopted by Paris on a par with France’s European allies.

“India is a factor of stability in South Asia,” Le Drian said at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) here this afternoon, drawing from a white paper on defence and national security tabled by his government earlier.

He recalled that French military equipment had been used by the Indian armed forces for 60 years. Speaking on a day that marked the 14th anniversary of the 1999 Kargil war, the minister said French-built Mirage 2000 combat jets had played a major role in evicting adversaries from Indian territory.

Like the Mirage 2000, the Rafale is also built by Dassault Aviation. The Rafale was selected ahead of five other competitors in January 2012. But it has not yet been contracted.

Le Drian said he was “not at all concerned about the delay (in signing the contract) because a project of this magnitude deserves to be explored and checked and the pace is normal for a project that we will be working on together.”

The Indian Air Force proposes to buy 126 Rafale fighters but the contract negotiation is not yet complete nearly a year-and-a-half after the aircraft was chosen. In the past, Dassault Aviation had shut down an assembly line of Mirage 2000-V fighters after India had initially evinced interest but did not convey a decision in two years.

But the Rafale is in production for the French armée de 'air (the air force), Le Drian emphasised. Earlier in the day, Le Drian met defence minister A.K. Antony for the first round of talks.