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French Defence Minister to visit India

Press Trust of India  |  New Delhi 

French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian will arrive in India on a three-day visit later this month to hold talks with his counterpart Manohar Parrikar during which the issue of the multi-billion dollar deal for Rafale combat aircraft is likely to come up.

He will arrive in India on November 30 and hold a series of meetings with top defence and government officials the next day.

Defence sources said the meeting with Parrikar will take place at the Army Battle Honour Mess rather than at the South Block.

This will be Parrikar's first meeting with a foreign dignitary after he took charge of the Defence Ministry earlier this month.

Though sources said no "restricted meeting" is scheduled, the aircraft deal is likely to come up as the French government is keen to wrap it up as soon as possible.

The sources maintained that specific deals are not discussed in regular meetings.

Restricted meeting is one when the Ministers meet without officials being present.

Incidentally, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius had met External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and then Defence Minister Arun Jaitley in June and had pushed for early purchase of Rafale combat jet planes.

Fabius had said France hopes that with the new government, which was keen on efficiency, the implementation of the decision will be swift and had expressed confidence of a "positive outcome" to the ongoing negotiations in the deal.

Asserting that there was a difference in "some time" and "too long", Fabius had said that Rafale meets all the requirements of India, including cutting-edge technology and highest quality.

India had selected Rafale combat aircraft in a deal estimated to be over Rs 60,000 crore three years ago but the negotiations are still continuing between Indian Defence Ministry and the French firm Dassault Aviation as there have been issues over pricing and work-sharing.

The air force has been pitching very hard for the deal to go through and says it urgently needs the twin-engine multi-role fighter to maintain a combat edge against Pakistan.

Rafale, which would replace India's Russian-made fleet of MiG-21 and MiG-27 planes, had stood over combat aircraft manufactured by rivals like Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

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First Published: Wed, November 26 2014. 17:57 IST