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France admits India Rafale deal unlikely this year

French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.
French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian. Poujoulat/AFP

The French government has for the first time admitted that it does not expect the long-postponed deal to sell Rafale fighter-jets to India to be signed this year. But Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian on Wednesday insisted that he was "optimistic" that the sale by France's Dassault Aviation will be agreed in 2014.

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"So far as the Rafale goes, I'm optimistic that there will be a signing with India next year, when a budget has been agreed," Le Drian told business newspaper Les Echos.

Dassault boss Eric Trappier recently said that he hoped the order for 126 planes will be signed before the end of the year and that is also the Indian government's official aim.

But the death of Delhi's chief negotiator, Arun Kumar Bal, last week put yet another spoke into the wheel of a process that has dragged out since January 2012, largely due to Dassault's reluctance to guarantee the 108 planes that will be built by an Indian company.

A further problem is that Indian politicians attention is now focused on next year's general election.

A change of government could also threaten the deal.

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France's military budget for 2014-2019 assumes that foreign orders for Rafales will replace sales to the French state in 2016.

But Dassault calculates that it needs three years from the signing of the contract to build and deliver the first plane, so, if the contract is not signed until after the election, the planes will not start to be delivered until 2017.

Le Drian said he is confident that France's aeronautic industry can export seven Rafales in 2016, asserting that France is well placed to strike a deal with Qatar, which wants to buy 72 jet fighters.

Paris hopes that the Gulf emirate will take half that number from France and the other half from the US.

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