India working on contract details as Rafale deal inches closer
PARIS Jan 10 (Reuters) - India is ironing out contract details on a purchase of French Rafale fighter jets that has been under negotiation over the past year, India's foreign minister said during a visit to Paris on Thursday, suggesting that a deal could be close.
India chose Dassault Aviation's Rafale for a possible 126-plane order in January 2012 ahead of the competing Eurofighter Typhoon and started exclusive talks, lifting hopes in France of a sale that would restore the lustre of its aviation industry.
Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid - on his first visit to France where he will meet President Francois Hollande on Friday - said progress was being made on the deal, worth around $15 billion, but did not say when it could be signed nor what it would entail.
"We know a good French wine takes time to mature and so do good contracts," he told reporters. "Contract details are being worked out. A decision has already been taken."
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius also said the talks "were advancing well."
Asked about the status of the deal, a Dassault spokesman said the company remained positive.
"Relations between India and Dassault are solid and long-standing, we're confident," the spokesman said.
In December, Dassault Chief Executive Charles Edelstenne said he was "relatively optimistic" the deal would soon wrap up despite tough negotiations.
Hollande will visit the United Arab Emirates next week, and is also courting Brazil, as Paris strives to ink a first sale of Rafales, billed as some of the most effective fighter jets in the world but also among the most expensive.
Former President Nicolas Sarkozy took personal charge of trying to market Rafales abroad in 2007 after the embarrassing failure of a bid to sell $2 billion of the jets to Morocco.
India already owns more than 50 French Mirage jets as it seeks to upgrade its largely Soviet-era air force and navy. (Reporting by Alexandria Sage; Writing by Catherine Bremer and Alexandria Sage; Editing by Sophie Walker)