(Adds quote, details)
By Anurag Kotoky
NEW DELHI, July 26 France's defence minister
said on Friday negotiations with India to sell 126 Rafale
fighter jets from Dassault Aviation were proceeding
well, but did not say when the deal would be finalised.
India picked the Rafale for exclusive negotiations in
January 2012 after a hotly contested bidding war. But
differences over the industrial role of India's state-run
Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd have delayed the deal.
French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who is on a
three-day visit to India, told reporters he was not concerned
about the delay to finalise the $15 billion contract, one of the
world's largest defence import orders.
"Of course, the project is the priority. At the risk of
disappointing you, I will not be announcing the date of signing
the contract. I would like you to know that the negotiations are
going on well and I have full confidence," Le Drian said.
Under the deal, Dassault is expected to send 18 ready-made
jets, then manufacture the rest in India. Hindustan Aeronautics
Ltd (HAL) will be the company's lead partner in the process.
Dassault had earlier expressed doubts about the
technological capability of HAL to manufacture such a
sophisticated fighter jet.
The deal has come at a time when India is pushing for
greater local manufacturing of military equipment. It is ranked
as the world's biggest importer, buying up to 80 percent of its
weapons from overseas, a figure Indian leaders want reduced.
Le Drian said the fighter deal called for the involvement of
"Numerous Indian companies will benefit from the offset laid
down in the contract and I know for a fact that they have been
actively preparing for this."
Foreign companies have in the past questioned whether Indian
companies have the advanced technology and trained staff to
build world-class systems.
Negotiations slowed down after Dassault said it wanted two
separate contracts to be signed - one for the ready-made
aircraft, and another for the rest to be built by HAL, an Indian
defence ministry official told Reuters earlier this year.
India had opposed the proposal, the official said in April.
Le Drian met Indian Defence Minister A. K. Antony earlier on
An Indian defence ministry spokesman declined to comment on
the status of negotiations for the jet deal.
But a joint statement said any defence deal must involve
greater collaboration to protect their mutual interests.
"They agreed that such cooperation should continue to be
progressed to the mutual benefit of both countries, including in
high technology areas involving joint research and development
and transfer of technology."
(Writing by Sanjeev Miglani; Editing by Ron Popeski)