French FM Le Drian in India ahead of Macron visit
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French Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian was in India on Friday to prepare a vist by President Emmanuel Macron at the beginning of next year. Arms sales, trade and climate change are likely to be raised when he meets Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other officials.
Arriving from Saudi Arabia, where he played a role in Lebanon's departing Prime Minister Saad Hariri's decision to visit Paris, Le Drian touched down in New Delhi early on Friday.
He follows Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly, who visited India last month, and both are laying the way for Macron's trip.
That was originally scheduled for December but has been postponed because of local assembly elections in Modi's home state, Gujarat, which is of vital importance to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
As well as meeting Modi, Le Drian will discuss with his India counterpart, Sushma Swaraj, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and business leaders.
Among the questions they are likely to discuss are:
Arms sales: India is the world's biggest arms importer and, after protracted negotiations, Delhi ordered 36 Rafale jet fighters from French company Dassault last year and the French diplomatic service is mobilised to encourage the purchase of more Rafales, Airbus's Panther helicopters and Scorpène submarines. The Rafale deal has become a cause of controversy in the Gujarat election, with the opposition Congress accusing the government of favouritism towards the Reliance Group, which is Dassault's partner at the India end of the operation.
Trade and strategic partnership: India is France's only strategic partner in South Asia, leading to cooperation on security, politics and trade. French firms have invested almost 20 billion euros in India and employ 300,000 people there, according to the foreign affairs ministry. In the historic city of Jaipur, Le Drian will inaugurate the third Bonjour India event, which will last until February and will promote French "creativity and innovation" in over 30 cities. France also wants to encourage Indian students to come to its universities and tourists to its monuments, hotels and shops.
Climate Change: (See trade above). French companies are investing in sustainable urban development and renewable energy, Le Drian told the Hindu newspaper ahead of his visit. Modi staged a high-profile intervention in the 2015 Cop21 conference in Paris, announcing the creation of an International Solar Alliance, which 44 countries have since joined, to boost solar energy. France's EDF has taken over Areva's contract to build six EPR nuclear power stations, although progress is judged slow by the Indian media. Le Drian says it is all going well and will help India, a big coal consumer, in its goal to produce 40 percent of its electricity from non-fossil fuel by 2030.
Security: France has overseas territories in the Indian Ocean, notably the island of Réunion, and Le Drian says that helps in "forging a real defence and security partnership". French diplomats pleased India by joining their American and British counterparts in proposing that Masood Azhar, the leader of the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed group that is active in the disputed state of Kashmir, be declared a terrorist by the UN Security Council. The proposal was blocked by Pakistan's ally, China.
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