The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Nudge to lift terror cuffs on hand of peace

New Delhi, May 25: Impressed with the “courageous” decision taken by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to normalise ties with Pakistan, France has suggested that India should not allow the issue of terrorism to hold the entire peace process hostage.

“We are not saying that terrorism is not an important issue. But peace should not be hostage to a particular posturing,” French ambassador in Delhi Dominique Girard said.

It is mainly on the initiative of French President Jacques Chirac that India has been chosen to participate in the first “pre-summit” dialogue with the Group of Eight (G8), the high-profile block of the world’s most developed nations, at Evian, France, later this week.

A bilateral meeting on the sidelines between Vajpayee and Chirac is a strong likelihood. If they meet, the leaders will discuss, among other things, the recent developments in South Asia. Vajpayee will also get a chance to explain the rationale behind his peace initiative.

According to Girard, France is “very happy and very impressed” with Vajpayee’s peace initiative.

“The impetus given by the Prime Minister can change a lot of things. After all, you have been hearing a lot of noise about pre-emptive strike and then in the next few weeks, you hear India’s envoy in China is being appointed as the high commissioner in Pakistan.”

“In international politics, you often note that because (if) one man or two men had the vision and courage, it can change a lot of things,” Girard said.

The ambassador, however, was quick to note that it would be unfair to be “over optimistic” though the steps taken by India and Pakistan were encouraging.

Like other countries, France, too, thinks that it is primarily the responsibility of the Indian and the Pakistani Prime Ministers to solve their own problems, Girard said.

“But we are all concerned about the risk involved in the situation in South Asia, the current tension in the region. So we are happy to see the current steps taken by the two sides to normalise relations.”

He also expressed happiness over the pace of cooperation between India and France. “The Iraq crisis showed that we are on the same wavelength. India and France both stress the idea of a multipolar world to ensure the stability of the world. This, in a sense, has become more important after Iraq.”

Defence cooperation continued to be an important pillar in bilateral ties, he said. Apart from joint exercises by the armed forces and exchange of military personnel, India and France agreed to jointly build chopper engines.

But France was also keen on transferring technology to India. “French companies are not only keen to sell, but also keen to cooperate with Indian partners as equals. The end result is not only good cooperation but also to develop the technological, scientific and human resources of India,” Girard said.

The recent “French Season” in India, organised over nearly three months in state capitals, showed businessmen of both countries were willing to cooperate in newer sectors. Some of these were water treatment, transportation and biotechnology.

France was also making a serious effort to enrol and encourage more Indian students to enrol in leading French institutions and colleges.

Cooperation in nuclear energy was another important sector for both countries. So far, the cooperation was limited to the civilian sector because of France’s commitment to international groups and their guidelines.

But France saw India as a huge market for nuclear energy and hoped to cooperate further in this sector in the near future.

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