The agreement on building nuclear power reactors was always going to be the centrepiece of President Nicholas Sarkozy's visit to India. France was quick off the mark to conclude a civilian nuclear agreement with India in 2008; and the framework agreement signed between the French nuclear firm Areva and the Nuclear Power Corporation of India to build two of the six planned reactors in Maharashtra was an outcome of this. Some issues relating to the proposed $9.3 billion deal need to be ironed out; these relate to Indian safety and cost concerns over Areva's advanced but yet-to-be-proven EPR reactors as well as French discomfort with the civilian nuclear liability legislation recently adopted by the Indian Parliament. While nuclear commerce will be an important new component of the bilateral relationship, Mr. Sarkozy's visit gave both countries an opportunity to come closer on a broad range of bilateral and global issues. The full-throated reaffirmation of French support for India's permanent membership in the United Nations Security Council has been warmly received. The resolve to enhance bilateral cooperation in the G20 to make it an effective tool for overhauling the international monetary system and for stabilising commodity prices, and to work together in international forums on issues such as Afghanistan, terrorism, and climate change are indicators of deepening political ties. At least in principle, all this should help India achieve a better balance in external relations, which are at present seriously distorted by strategic over-dependence on the United States and a lack of clear commitment to a multi-polar world order.
On the economic front too, there were positive developments. France has traditionally tended to see India as a market for its arms manufacturers. A big item on President Sarkozy's agenda was to pitch Dassault's $10-billion bid to sell the Indian Air Force 126 Rafale fighter aircraft, and push a long-pending agreement to upgrade the IAF's existing Mirage fleet. But clearly, both countries recognise that it is in their mutual interest to broad-base economic relations. The two countries signed an agreement to increase investment on both sides, and resolved to take their trade to €12 billion by 2012. President Sarkozy was the third of the P-5 leaders to visit India this year — Russia and China are to follow later this month. While his visit lacked the hype that surrounded President Barack Obama's visit, it delivered much of substance. And Carla Bruni-Sarkozy's charisma and commendable work as ambassador for the Global Fund, which is engaged in the fight against HIV-AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria, has won much appreciation among Indians.