A day after Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of having altered the Rafale fighter plane deal to help a businessman, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian on Friday said the defence partnership is significant, and named the Rafale project as among the “most emblematic”. Le Drian, who has earlier served as French defence minister, said, “I am well placed to know that our defence partnership is significant, as shown through the Rafale and Scorpène projects — to mention only the most emblematic ones. But it is not limited to the acquisition of military assets, it is far broader than that, as exemplified in our cooperation in the Indian Ocean.”
The French Foreign Minister’s reference to the cooperation in the Indian Ocean region is also significant, since it comes days after India held quadrilateral talks with the US, Japan and Australia on the sidelines of the ASEAN summit in Manila on Indo-Pacific region. New Delhi and Paris decided to strengthen cooperation in the Indian Ocean Region as External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj held bilateral talks with him.
After the meeting, Swaraj said, “In the maritime security domain, both sides discussed enhanced cooperation in the Indian Ocean Region, where both India and France have a crucial presence. The cooperation, which could include other willing strategic partners, is aimed at ensuring the safety of international sea-lanes for unimpeded commerce and communications, countering maritime terrorism and piracy, building maritime domain awareness, capacity building and greater coordination in regional or international fora in the Indian Ocean region.”
Concerned over growing terrorism, the two sides also decided to strengthen counter-terror cooperation, and asked the international community to oppose the countries which are financing, sheltering and providing safe havens to terrorists. “We expressed grave concern on growing terrorism and decided that we need to fight the evil together. We appealed to all countries to oppose those financing, sheltering and providing safe havens to terrorists,” Swaraj said.
On his part, the French minister said he was here to lay the groundwork for the visit of the French President which would take place early next year during the summit of the International Solar Alliance. In the evening, he met Prime Minister Narendra Modi and briefed him on recent developments in the bilateral relationship as follow-up to his visit to France in June this year.