In a bid to maintain secrecy on India’s deal to buy Rafale fighter aircraft, New Delhi and Paris are working on renewing and updating the confidentiality agreement during France’s President Emmanuel Macron’s visit, beginning Friday night.
A separate joint statement on cooperation in the maritime domain, especially in the Indian Ocean region, is also expected to be signed during the visit. At least 10 pacts are expected to be signed.Prime Minister Narendra Modi received Macron at the airport on Friday night, departing from protocol for the eighth time since assuming office.
The 10-year confidentiality agreement signed in 2008, which lapses this year, is expected to be renewed for at least another 10 years.
“We are working on it…the agreement will be updated and renewed. It may happen during the visit or after…let’s see,” a source told The Indian Express on Friday.
The government has so far declined to reveal details of the cost of Rafale jets, citing “confidentiality provisions of a bilateral India-France Agreement of 2008 signed by the previous [UPA] government.”
This confidentiality pact was cited by Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on February 7, when she refused to share the figures on how much India is paying for various components of the deal — a key demand of the opposition.
During the visit, the two sides are also likely to issue a “separate joint statement” on cooperation in the “Indian Ocean region” — which is a key strength of French defence forces.
France has a significant presence in the 11-million sq km of an exclusive economic zone, particularly in the Mozambique channel with over 10 islands, as part of its overseas territories. The country has military bases in Djibouti, Abu Dhabi and Reunion Islands, and India wants to tap the strengths in these areas — as it proactively counters Chinese military activities in the Indian Ocean region.
“It makes sense to cooperate with the French, as both (New Delhi and Paris) have stakes in the Indian Ocean region,” a source said. Overall, the two sides are likely to sign at least 10 agreements in various fields — from energy to security, and people-to-people to space.
Macron is accompanied by his wife Brigitte Marie-Claude Macron, and a delegation of businessmen and ministry officials.“The visit of President Macron is aimed at strengthening the bilateral economic, political and strategic dimension of our engagement”, the MEA said in a statement.
Modi and Macron will co-chair the founding conference of the International Solar Alliance on Sunday. On Monday, the two leaders will visit Varanasi.