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Indian ministers approve Rafale fighter jet deal

Rafale, as pictured on 31 March, 2016
Rafale, as pictured on 31 March, 2016 Reuters/Naseem Zeitoon

French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian is due to arrive in India to finalise the sale of 36 Rafale fighter jets.An Indian cabinet committee gave its approval Wednesday to a long-delayed deal to buy 36 fighter jets from France's Dassault, as the country looks to bolster its military in the face of China's growing clout.

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A senior Indian defence ministry official said Prime Minister Narendra Modi's cabinet committee on security had given its green light to the multi-billion dollar Rafale jet purchase at a meeting in New Delhi and the defence ministers of both France and India would ink the agreement on Friday.

The official said that other details including the exact amount and formalities "will become clear after the signing event".

In a brief statement, the French presidency said that Le Drian's visit had been "agreed in principle with Prime Minister Modi" when he met President Francois Hollande at the G20 summit in Hangzhou, China earlier this month.

There was no immediate comment from Dassault but a report by the Press Trust of India put the purchase price at around 7.9 billion euros.

The Rafale purchase was first mooted in 2012 but has faced major delays and obstacles over the last four years.

India entered exclusive negotiations on buying 126 Rafale jets four years ago, but the number of planes was scaled back in tortuous negotiations over the cost and assembly of the planes in India.

Modi announced on a visit to Paris last year that his government had agreed in principle to buy the jets as India looks to modernise its Soviet-era military.

But the deal continued to be held back by disagreements such as Delhi's insistence that arms makers invest a percentage of the value of any major deal in India, known as the offset clause.

Hollande again pushed the deal on a visit to India in January, when he was Modi's guest for the Republic Day celebrations, but officials privately acknowledged that price had become a sticking point.

The deal, if confirmed, is a major vote of confidence in the Rafale which had long struggled to find buyers in overseas, despite heavy lobbying efforts by the Hollande administration.

It is the biggest order for the Rafale after Egypt agreed to buy 24 of the jets in 2015 and Qatar purchased the same amount later that year.

 

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