Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai, in Paris on Tuesday for talks with his French counterpart, told The Hindu that there had been good progress in discussion between Dassault and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited on the contract to purchase 126 Rafale multi-role combat aircraft from France.

Discussion on the multi-billion dollar deal (an estimated $15 billion) had reportedly run into heavy weather with Dassault expressing doubts over HAL’s ability to avoid delays and other glitches. Dassault had said it was prepared to take outright responsibility for the 18 aircrafts it would deliver but had expressed doubts about its liability for the remaining jets that are to be produced assembled and delivered in India under the stewardship of HAL.

Asked if there was progress on this, Mr. Mathai said: “Our own consultations showed that both Dassault and HAL had not thought through what their working together would mean. Under the RFP [Request for Proposal], the responsibility is that of Dassault but HAL has to do the next batch of 108 aircraft after the outright delivery of the first 18 planes. The development, production, delivery is a joint project and HAL has to be the partner that takes it forward. The feeling now is that they have discussed these issues and they are much closer to an understanding of where each of them stands. Dassault is entitled to have partners but they have to work with HAL. As the contractor they are liable for the aircraft but HAL is the agent who will work with them in India to deliver it,” Mr. Mathai said.

Mr. Mathai, who met French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius during his short halt in Paris, said he had also talked to his counterpart about the SR-Sam (Maitri) contract for the purchase of surface-to-air missiles and the civil nuclear project in Jaitapur. Asked about talks between AREVA and the Nuclear Power Corporation of India (NPCIL) , Mr. Mathai replied: “In the civil nuclear area we discussed the current state of play in the Jaitapur project [to build six EPR nuclear reactors, each with a capacity to produce 1650 Megawatts of energy].” On the issue of Civil Nuclear Liability Act, he said India has had fairly intensive dialogues with other countries and will have similar discussions bilaterally with France. “Our law is a fact. Among the three partners we have in the civil nuclear field the French asked the least number of questions when the issue seemed very much alive for the others. The Americans sent a team of lawyers last year to go into the legal aspects and similar steps can be taken with France. But irrespective of who the partner is, the fact of the matter is that the people who will judge the law, whatever explanations we might give, are the courts and that is true anywhere in the world,” the Foreign Secretary said.

Mr. Mathai laid the foundation stone for the new building of the Maison de l’Inde, the Indian students’ hostel in the French capital.