India, France to expand defence, security partnership and also decides to lift ban on Italian defence firm.

India and France resolved to expand their defence ties at a meeting of India-France strategic dialogue in Paris on Friday that was co-chaired by NSA Ajit Doval and Emmanuel Bonne, the Diplomatic Advisor to French President Emmanuel Macron.

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In a significant move, India and France agreed to strengthen defence and security partnership by enhancing intelligence and information sharing, bolstering mutual capabilities, expanding military drills and pursuing new initiatives in maritime, space and cyber domains.

The two countries resolved to expand the defence ties at a meeting of India-France strategic dialogue in Paris on Friday that was co-chaired by NSA Ajit Doval and Emmanuel Bonne, the Diplomatic Advisor to French President Emmanuel Macron.

The Indian embassy in Paris said France reiterated its commitment to fully support Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision of ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ and defence industrialisation, joint research and technology development in India across a wide range of advanced capabilities.

France’s resolve to expand strategic cooperation with India came nearly two months after the unveiling of a new security alliance (AUKUS) by Australia, the UK and the US that had infuriated the French government.

The Indian delegation at the dialogue was led by Doval while the French side was headed by Bonne.

The French delegation included Admiral Jean-Philippe Rolland, the Chief Military Advisor to the French President.

It said the two sides discussed the global security environment, including current developments and long term challenges in the Indo-Pacific, the situation in Afghanistan, Africa, Southeast Asia and West Asia, the continuing challenge of terrorism and emerging threats in maritime, cyber and space domains.

The embassy said it was agreed that the emerging trends in global affairs reinforce the need for closer partnership between India and France, including in the UN Security Council and other UN forums.

It said the two sides will pursue these objectives through enhanced bilateral cooperation, deepening engagement in regional institutions and forums and jointly working with and assisting other countries in the Indo Pacific region.

“They agreed to strengthen bilateral defence and security partnership through enhanced intelligence and information sharing, operational cooperation, bolstering mutual capabilities, expanding bilateral exercises and pursuing new initiatives in maritime, space and cyber domains,” the embassy said.

“France reiterated its commitment to fully support Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision of Atmanirbhar Bharat and defence industrialisation, joint research and technology development in India across a wide range of advanced capabilities, based on long-standing cooperation and mutual trust,” it said.

In the Strategic Dialogue and other meetings, France stressed its continuing commitment to the Indo-Pacific region as a “resident power”, and partnership with India as a “major pillar” of its strategy for the region.

“Doval reiterated that France is one of India’s premier global and Indo-Pacific partners,” the embassy said.

It said the two sides reaffirmed the vision articulated by Modi and Macron, most recently during their meeting on the margins of the G20 Summit in Rome, that their strategic partnership has a vital role to play in advancing peace, stability and security in the Indo-Pacific region based on democratic values and a common belief in strategic autonomy and rule of law.

“India welcomed EU’s Indo Pacific strategy and looked forward to French presidency of the European Union in the first half of 2022 as an opportunity to give further shape to EU’s engagement in the Indo Pacific region, including in security, connectivity, sustainability and economic development,” the embassy said.

Building on the successful India-France initiative on International Solar Alliance, the two sides stressed the need to accelerate cooperation in clean energy, including civil nuclear energy and green hydrogen, it said.

The assertion by France to deepen cooperation with India in the Indo-Pacific came nearly two months after the AUKUS deal.

Under the deal, Australia will get technology from the US and UK to build nuclear-powered submarines.

The alliance is seen as an effort to counter China’s growing assertiveness in the South China Sea.

France reacted angrily to the formation of the new alliance as it resulted in Paris effectively losing a multi-billion dollar deal to build 12 conventional submarines for Australia. France was also upset over its exclusion from the alliance.

India decides to lift ban on Italian defence firm Leonardo with conditions

In a significant development, the government has decided to lift the ban on business dealings with defence major Leonardo SpA (earlier name Finmeccanica) that was banned in connection with the Rs 3600 crore VVIP chopper scam, according to a report in The Times of India.

The defence ministry’s decision to resume business with Leonardo SpA is “subject to certain conditions imposed on the company”, top government sources told TOI on Saturday.

Under the conditions, Leonardo SpA cannot make any commercial claims or file any civil suit against the Indian government for any previous deal. Moreover, new business dealings will take place “without any prejudice” to the ongoing investigations into the alleged VVIP helicopter scam by the CBI and Enforcement Directorate, which will continue, the sources added.

The MoD decision to lift the ban was taken after a high-level committee examined the matter on a request made by Leonardo SpA and submitted its recommendations after consultations with the law ministry.

Italy has repeatedly been asking India for the ban to be lifted in bilateral talks. Prime Minister Narendra Modi also held the first in-person meeting with his Italian counterpart Mario Draghi on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Rome on October 29.

Sources said the ban on Leonardo SpA and its subsidiaries had “limited India’s options” in the international arms market because the conglomerate produces a wide array of weapon systems ranging from torpedoes and 127mm naval guns to radars and short-range surface-to-air missiles.

One of the earliest casualties of the scandal, in fact, was the cancellation of India’s proposed Rs 1,200 crore deal to buy Black Shark heavy-weight torpedoes from a Finmeccanica subsidiary for the six French-origin Scorpene submarines being constructed at Mazagon Docks.

It was in early-2012 that allegations of Rs 360 crore being paid as bribes to Indian politicians, bureaucrats and IAF officers to swing the Rs 3,546 crore deal to supply 12 AW-101 VVIP helicopters had first surfaced in a probe by prosecutors in Italy. The deal had been inked in 2010.

With the MoD first freezing all payments to AgustaWestland and then finally scrapping the contract in 2013-2014, the CBI had registered a case against former IAF chief Air Chief Marshal S P Tyagi, Finmeccanica CEO Giuseppe Orsi, AgustaWestland chief Bruno Spagnolini and alleged middleman Christian Michel James, among others.

The probe is yet to be concluded, with the CBI recently telling the court that its investigation is pending for “want of complete execution of letters rogatory” sent to nine countries and other reasons.

Leonardo was among the 15 arms companies on the “put on hold/suspended” list of the defence ministry till September this year. At the top are six companies, including Singapore Technologies Kinetics, Israel Military Industries, Rheinmetall Air Defence (Zurich) and Corporation Defence (Russia), which are “debarred” completely.

Engine manufacturer Rolls Royce and Tatra truck manufacturer (Czech Republic), in turn, are the four companies with whom “restricted procurements” are allowed on the basis of operational urgency, national security and non-availability of other alternatives.

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