‘Stress strategic partnership and move it into a higher gear’

BANGALORE, India: French Minister of Foreign, Affairs and International Development Jean-Marc Ayrault (L), speaks with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas 2017 event in Bangalore yesterday.-AFP

NEW DELHI: French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault began a four-day visit to India with a meeting yesterday with Prime Minister Narendra Modi to bolster the “strategic partnership” between the two countries. Ayrault held talks for 45 minutes with the Hindu nationalist leader in the southern hi-tech hub of Bangalore, where he will stay until today evening. “The number one objective (of this trip) is to stress the strategic partnership and move it into a higher gear,” the minister said. The visit is part of a series of meetings between Indian and French leaders.

President Francois Hollande has visited India twice during his five-year term, in 2013 and 2016. Modi, who took office in 2014, has twice visited France. Ayrault and Modi discussed in particular collaboration in the defense sector, a few months after the sale of 36 French Rafale fighters to India for about eight billion Euros ($8.4 billion). Asked about the possibility of future arms deals with India, which has become the world’s largest weapons importer as it tries to modernize its arsenal, the minister said Modi was “ready to examine everything”.

India “is a huge country, which has a very important need to ensure its security against all the challenges it faces”, said Ayrault. The minister will tomorrow visit the western state of Gujarat, where Modi was chief minister for over a decade, accompanied by a delegation of about 100 representatives of French companies. Annual trade between France and India is worth some eight billion Euros, a figure that has grown markedly since 2000.-AFP