France steps up de­fence and nu­clear co­op­er­a­tion

SP's MAI - - FRONT PAGE - [ By Ran­jeet Ku­mar ]

With multi-bil­lion dol­lar deals in the last phases of ne­go­ti­a­tions in de­fence and nu­clear sec­tors, France made it a point to be­come the first Euro­pean coun­try to dis­patch its For­eign Min­is­ter Lau­rent Fabius to In­dia on June 30. He dis­cussed un­der ne­go­ti­a­tion deals with De­fence and For­eign Af­fairs Min­is­ters of the one-month-old Naren­dra Modi Govern­ment and to im­press them with pro­posed multi­bil­lion-dol­lar in­vest­ment plans by Air­bus be­sides promis­ing close co­op­er­a­tion with In­dia in var­i­ous in­ter­na­tional fo­rums and sup­port to In­dia for mem­ber­ship of the exclusive nu­clear club like the Nu­clear Sup­pli­ers Group (NSG). Fabius also handed over an in­vi­ta­tion from the French Pres­i­dent Hol­lande to Prime Min­is­ter Modi to visit Paris as soon as pos­si­ble and even sug­gested dates as the last week of Septem­ber or early Oc­to­ber when Modi vis­its the United States. France wants to strengthen its strate­gic part­ner­ship with In­dia on the two very strong pil­lars of de­fence and nu­clear co­op­er­a­tion and ex­pects a con­crete de­ci­sion from In­dia by the time Modi ar­rives in Paris.

Hence, the visit of French For­eign Min­is­ter Fabius fo­cused prin­ci­pally on these ma­jor ar­eas of In­dia-France co­op­er­a­tion. In both these sec­tors France is ea­gerly wait­ing for the green sig­nal from the Modi Govern­ment. The de­fence deals alone would be no less than $25 bil­lion if In­dia goes ahead with the Rafale fighter air­craft, Short-range sur­face-to-air mis­sile (SRSAM) Maitri and the multi-role tanker trans­port (MRTT) air­craft Air­bus A-330 deal while the un­der ne­go­ti­a­tion. Six EPR nu­clear re­ac­tors in Jaita­pur will en­sure over $40 bil­lion deal for the French nu­clear equip­ment man­u­fac­tur­ers in the com­ing decade.

The 126 Rafale medium multi-role com­bat air­craft (MMRCA) alone will cost any­where around $15 to 20 bil­lion. And if the scope of the deal is ex­panded to in­clude an­other 66 more aitcraft, Das­sault Avi­a­tion of France will earn a few bil­lion dol­lars more. The SRSAM co­op­er­a­tion agree­ment en­vis­ages a con­tract of $6 bil­lion while the six MRTT Air­bus A-330 will cost around $2 bil­lion. When asked about these deals in the off­ing, Fabius said, “In­dia is an in­de­pen­dent coun­try, wants equip­ment of the high­est qual­ity in­clud­ing trans­fer of tech­nol­ogy so that it can pro­duce on In­dian soil. The pro­posal for the Rafale

meets all these le­git­i­mate de­mands. I am con­fi­dent of the Rafale deal. This deal will have con­se­quences for next 30 years.”

Re­gard­ing the MRTT deal, the Air­bus Mil­i­tary CEO Domingo Ureña Raso had then re­acted over IAF’s wish to ac­quire them: “We are grate­ful for the con­fi­dence shown in our com­pany by the Govern­ment of In­dia and the In­dian Air Force and we ap­pre­ci­ate the de­tailed and fair ap­praisal of the com­pet­ing prod­ucts which they have con­ducted. This has been a long and tough com­pe­ti­tion and we are hon­oured to have been selected. We are fully com­mit­ted to the next stage of the ne­go­ti­a­tions and ul­ti­mately to pro­vid­ing the IAF with what is un­ques­tion­ably the most ad­vanced tanker/trans­port air­craft fly­ing and cer­ti­fied to­day.”

Be­sides the MMRCA, the over $6 bil­lion ne­go­ti­a­tion for the SRSAM was con­cluded dur­ing the visit of the Pres­i­dent Fran­cois Hol­lande in Fe­bru­ary 2013. The then Prime Min­is­ter Man­mo­han Singh had com­mented, “De­fence ties were poised to reach a ‘qual­i­ta­tively’ new level. This SRSAM project once ap­proved by the govern­ment will be code­vel­oped and co-pro­duced in In­dia.” Ob­servers point out that since the deal was agreed be­tween the two sov­er­eign gov­ern­ments, the suc­ces­sor govern­ment can­not ig­nore them, es­pe­cially when the In­dian armed forces need them on an ur­gent ba­sis.

Re­gard­ing the nu­clear deal, In­dian Prime Min­is­ter had then said, “We re­viewed progress on the Jaita­pur Nu­clear Power Project and re­it­er­ated our com­mit­ment to its early im­ple­men­ta­tion as soon as the commercial and tech­ni­cal ne­go­ti­a­tions, which have made good progress, are com­pleted,” When asked about the EPR nu­clear re­ac­tors pro­posed to be es­tab­lished in Jaita­pur and if the French Govern­ment had any is­sue with In­dia’s Nu­clear Li­a­bil­ity Law, Fabius said, “We have no prob­lem.”

If this is re­ally so, this will help In­dia and weaken the stand taken by other nu­clear power coun­tries like the United States, Ja­pan and Canada who have ex­pressed reser­va­tions on the Li­a­bil­ity Law adopted by the In­dian Par­lia­ment. How­ever, one French diplo­matic source told this writer that the French Areva nu­clear power com­pany is con­fi­dent of the safety as­pect of the de­sign of EPR re­ac­tors, hence they are not wor­ried about the fears of any ac­ci­dent in the EPR re­ac­tor. The French source pointed out that coun­tries like China have ex­pressed con­fi­dence on the EPR re­ac­tors which are al­ready un­der ex­e­cu­tion and likely to be­come op­er­a­tional by 2016. In In­dia the Areva has en­tered into a co­op­er­a­tion agree­ment with NPCIL for set­ting up six EPR re­ac­tors each with 1,650 MW ca­pac­ity.

How­ever, there are strong con­cerns in In­dia over the cost of en­ergy pro­duc­tion from these re­ac­tors. The in­stal­la­tion cost of these re­ac­tors are said to be the high­est among all in­ter­na­tional nu­clear re­ac­tors. When asked about the cost-re­lated is­sues the spokesman of the In­dian Ex­ter­nal Af­fairs Min­istry Say­eed Ak­barud­din said, ”The ex­perts of Areva and the NPCIL will work out the techno-commercial is­sues of these EPR re­ac­tors”.

In fact if the pro­posed de­fence and nu­clear deals be­tween France and In­dia ma­te­ri­alise, the two coun­tries will find them­selves wo­ven in very strong strings of strate­gic part­ner­ships for decades, which will also prove to be a wind­fall gain to French de­fence and nu­clear com­pa­nies. France has been strong sup­porter of In­dia in in­ter­na­tional bod­ies and had ear­lier ex­tended moral sup­port to In­dia af­ter In­dia’s Pokhran nu­clear ex­plo­sion in 1998 when In­dia was iso­lated by the world com­mu­nity led by the United States. France, had been a strong sup­porter for In­dia’s claim to the per­ma­nent mem­ber­ship in UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil and both the coun­tries have close co­op­er­a­tion on many other in­ter­na­tional is­sues. These as­pects will weigh very heav­ily in favour of France while tak­ing a de­ci­sion on the multi­bil­lion-dol­lar de­fence and nu­clear con­tracts. The UPA Govern­ment has taken these de­fence and nu­clear ne­go­ti­a­tions to such a stage that it will be dif­fi­cult for the Naren­dra Modi-Govern­ment to back out from the com­mit­ments al­ready made.

The French For­eign Min­is­ter Lau­rent Fabius calls on the Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi in New Delhi. The Union Min­is­ter for Ex­ter­nal Af­fairs and

Over­seas In­dian Af­fairs Sushma Swaraj is also seen.

The French For­eign Min­is­ter Lau­rent Fabius with De­fence Min­is­ter Arun Jait­ley

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