French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin is promoting economic and defense cooperation with India during a three-day visit to the country. He also says France remains committed to preventing a war over the Iraq crisis. Mr. Raffarin began his tour in Bangalore city, where the Indian government has organized an aeronautics fair. The French prime minister urged Indian authorities to finalize a deal to buy 43 Airbus aircraft from France.

India's domestic carrier, Indian Airlines, decided to upgrade its fleet with the Airbus jets last year, but the Indian government has yet to endorse the decision. It is estimated the planes would cost well over $1 billion.

Private companies from more than 22 countries, including Britain and the United States, are represented at the aeronautics fair. They are vying for Indian aviation and defense contracts worth billions of dollars.

Uday Bhaskar, deputy director at the government-funded Indian Institute for Defense Studies and Analysis, said that France and India are discussing a number of possible defense contracts. "India has evinced interest for a certain kind of military aircraft," he noted. "These include the Mirage [fighter jet], which France is able to supply. There is also talk of an advanced jet trainer for the Indian air force, which has been doing the rounds for many years. Then there is also an engine for the aircraft, which France may be able to provide. And finally there is also a submarine deal, which has been referred to in the past." The French leader also witnessed the signing of joint-venture contracts between French and Indian companies to produce small engines for civil aircraft and military helicopters.

Mr. Raffarin is accompanied by a delegation of nearly 170 people, including senior ministers and businessmen. Both India and France say they want to expand bilateral trade, which is approximately $1 billion a year.

The French leader will focus on political issues when he meets senior Indian leaders in New Delhi on Friday.

French and Indian officials say both countries want to consolidate and widen their friendship. They say, boosting bilateral ties, terrorism, and the situation in Iraq will top the agenda.

In Bangalore, the French prime minister said that U.N. inspectors must study evidence U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell presented to the U.N. Security Council so that they can destroy any weapons of mass destruction Iraq possesses.

He reiterated his country's position that there are ways other than war to resolve the crisis over U.S. allegations that Iraq still is developing weapons of mass destruction, in violation of U.N. resolutions.