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French, Indian Leaders Agree on Stronger Ties

The leaders of France and India met Monday in Paris for talks on ways to boost bilateral relations, including economic ties. The two countries took a step forward in that area, announcing they would negotiate a cooperation agreement to transfer civilian nuclear technology.

In remarks to reporters, French President Jacques Chirac confirmed reports that India had purchased six Franco-Spanish submarines for about $3 billion. And he also confirmed a report in an Indian newspaper that India had agreed to buy half a dozen French submarines and 43 Airbus planes.

The news came as Mr. Chirac held a luncheon meeting with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Mr. Singh's daylong stopover in Paris was aimed at sealing a closer economic cooperation with France, and in gaining French assistance in developing its civilian energy technology program. A joint statement issued at the Elysee presidential palace by the two leaders confirmed that France and India would work on a nuclear cooperation agreement.

France has about 19 nuclear energy plants, and derives almost 80 percent of its electricity from nuclear power. But Jean-Luc Racine, senior fellow at the Center for Indian Studies in Paris, says India may be interested in striking a deal with France for other reasons as well.

"Obviously the stopover of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on his way to the UN Security Council and the UN General assembly has one key goal: to enhance the bilateral relationship. There's an economic content, but there is also, I think, a willingness to carry on the strategic dialogue and to discuss the broader issues," he said.

India tested nuclear weapons in 1998. Because it has not signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, it cannot receive help in buying nuclear energy technology from a group of 30 countries supplying it.

But in July, President Bush agreed to try to persuade Congress to lift those sanctions on sharing of nuclear energy technology. In an interview with France's Le Figaro newspaper, Mr. Singh said whatever help India got with nuclear energy would be kept separate from its defense program.

The meeting between Mr. Singh and Mr. Chirac also marked the return to official duties by the French president, after being hospitalized last week for eye problems.