India and France on Friday discussed their ongoing military cooperation during the Defence Minister-level talks, stressing that defence cooperation was an important pillar of the strategic partnership between both the countries.
In a joint statement issued after deliberations between Defence Minister A K Antony and his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian, the two sides said they have agreed to further strengthen their defence ties as they were mutually beneficial.
“The Ministers had detailed discussions regarding current and future cooperation in the areas of defence equipment and technology collaboration. They agreed that such cooperation should continue to be progressed to the mutual benefit of both countries, including in high technology areas involving joint research and development and transfer of technology,’’ it said.
Negotiations between India and France are in final stages for the Rs 50,000-crore deal for procuring 126 Rafale combat aircraft for the Indian Air Force. The two sides are also holding negotiations for a Rs 30,000-crore project for co-developing the Maitri surface-to-air missile defence system.
France has emerged as a key player in defence cooperation with India, bagging several big contracts, including the deal for building six Scorpene submarines for the Navy though it has been further delayed.
“Mr. Antony and Mr. Le Drian held detailed and useful talks on regional and international security challenges of mutual interest,’’ the joint statement said. India has its concerns over the impact of withdrawal of American troops in 2014 from Afghanistan on the security scenario in its neighbourhood.
The two sides also reviewed the status of various measures for bilateral defence cooperation and the progress in areas pursuant to their discussions in February this year during the French President's visit to India, the statement said.
“The Ministers noted that defence cooperation is an important pillar of the strategic partnership between both countries and that the ongoing dialogue and cooperation is mutually beneficial to both nations,’’ it said.
The two Defence Ministers agreed to enhance exchanges between their respective defence institutions and armed forces including in the areas of military education and training and through the conduct of military exercises. They welcomed the upcoming bilateral exercise 'Shakti' in September 2013 in France between the two armies.
“The Ministers noted with satisfaction that the Navies of both countries are working towards finalising the schedule for the conduct of exercise 'Varuna' off the coast of India and also that the next Air Force exercise 'Garuda' would be held during the first half of 2014,’’ the joint statement said.
The two Ministers tasked the High Committee on Defence Cooperation (HCDC), which is scheduled to meet in France in October this year, to follow up and finalise practical measures to expand and deepen the bilateral partnership in defence.
The French Defence Minister also conveyed that on the 100th anniversary of World War I, his country was planning various projects to pay tribute to Indian soldiers who were killed in France during that war and this was appreciated by the Indian side.
The Ministers exchanged views on issues relating to UN peace keeping operations and maritime security. The French Minister presented his country's new White Paper on Defence and National Security to Mr. Antony.