Britain's Hague plugs Eurofighter on visit to India

NEW DELHI Tue Jul 8, 2014 2:54pm EDT

Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague (L) and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (2nd R) smile during their meeting in New Delhi July 8, 2014. REUTERS/Manish Swarup/Pool

Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague (L) and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (2nd R) smile during their meeting in New Delhi July 8, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Manish Swarup/Pool

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NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Britain's foreign secretary lobbied India on Tuesday to buy Eurofighter military aircraft, suggesting that London has not yet abandoned hope of ousting France's Rafale from a multi-billion-dollar combat jet order.

William Hague was in New Delhi to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who swept to power in a landslide general election victory in May on pledges to boost jobs, upgrade infrastructure and reinforce India's armed forces that are saddled with outdated equipment, much of it of Soviet origin.

"We have always had a strong belief in the capabilities of the Eurofighter and its potential," Hague told reporters at a joint briefing with British finance minister George Osborne.

"It's always available to those countries that are able and willing to purchase it," he said.

London hopes that a stalled deal for India to buy 126 Rafale jets from France's Dassault Aviation may yet collapse, perhaps opening the door to a new deal involving the Eurofighter Typhoon that is partly built in Britain.

Hague made it clear that Britain would not seek to pre-empt the talks on buying the French jets after Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius visited New Delhi last week. "We respect the process that is followed in India," he said at the end of a two-day visit.

Earlier, the Indian hosts confirmed that the question of replacing India's crash-prone fleet of Russian-built MiG-21 jets had come up in intergovernmental talks.

"The UK foreign secretary did indicate the technological advantages of the product that they have available," Syed Akbaruddin, spokesman for the Ministry of External Affairs, told reporters in response to a question.

Hague and Osborne visited the site of Mahatma Gandhi's assasination on Tuesday morning and announced that a statue of the civil rights leader would be erected in front of the British Houses of Parliament.

Hague denied there was a contradiction between seeking to sell weapons to India and celebrating its best known pacifist.

"We're dealing with the Indian government, we're not imposing anything on anybody. Of course friendly countries that wish to buy things from the United Kindom, they are able in compliance with our laws and regulations to buy those things," he said.

"There is no moral conflict."

Akbaruddin said that as well as defense issues, plans to build a 1,000-km (600-mile) industrial corridor between India's financial capital Mumbai and high-tech hub Bangalore figured during Tuesday's talks.

Osborne said Britain would open a 1 billion pound ($1.68 billion) credit line to invest in Indian infrastructure - the largest such facility extended to any sector in any country.

On Monday, he said in Mumbai on Monday that MBDA - a missile systems group in which BAE Systems has a stake - had signed a 250 million pound deal to supply defence equipment to the Indian Air Force.

Other shareholders in MBDA are Airbus Group and Italy's Finmeccanica.

($1 = 0.5956 British pounds)

(Reporting by Frank Jack Daniel; Writing by Douglas Busvine; Editing by Louise Ireland)

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