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French president's India visit seeks dialogue on defense, energy

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Kapil Sethi/AP

(Read caption) French President Francois Hollande, second right, and France's environment minister Segolene Royal, third right, stand as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, right, gestures during a visit to the Capitol Complex in Chandigarh, India on Sunday.

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French President François Hollande arrived in India Sunday to kick off a three-day trip that could see progress on major defense and energy deals between the two nations.

Hollande met Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Chandigarh, a wealthy northern city laid out and partially designed in the 1950s by Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier.

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The symbolic location signals both leaders’ hopes for an increase in trade and bettering relations for India and France. Mr. Modi commended France’s $1 billion annual investment in India and said he anticipates being able to take advantage of French proficiency in defense, infrastructure, environmentalism, and counterterrorism, according to the Associated Press.

Mr. Hollande is joined on his trip by various top French ministers and business figures.

“Our bilateral relationship with France is very comprehensive,” said Indian External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Vikas Swarup via the AP.

“It covers a number of sectors such as defense, civil nuclear cooperation, railways, smart cities, science and research, space and culture. In all these areas we expect some forward progress during the French president's visit,” Swarup said.

India’s Mahindra Defence and France’s Airbus Helicopters on Sunday signed a “statement of intent” before both countries’ leaders to manufacture military helicopters in the future, The Hindu Business Line reported.

"Mahindra India and Airbus Helicopters have agreed on a blueprint that can put India on the world map for military helicopter manufacturing," said Airbus’s India president Pierre de Bausset, according to the AP.

Indian leaders are also hoping to further advance a deal that could replace 36 of the Indian air force’s older jets. The deal has been deliberated since last April, when Modi announced his desire for the planes; negotiations between the two governments have been ongoing since then and most likely will not be finalized during Hollande’s visit.

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"We are going to take another step on the road which we hope will lead us to India's acquisition of the 36 Rafale jets,” Hollande said, according to The Times of India.

"India needs them and France has shown that it has the world's best aircraft,” he said. “The commercial contract can only come after the inter-governmental accord ... which will be discussed during my visit.”

The discussions come after Egypt and Qatar both signed contracts for the jets last year, with more countries possibly in line for deals in the future.

Hollande is also hoping that his side can move forward on a plan for French energy company Areva to build six nuclear reactors in India, according to Reuters. That deal may likewise not be finalized until after Hollande’s visit concludes.

Both parties also expressed their desire to cooperate on counterterrorism after both France and India recently experienced terror events. One hundred and thirty people were killed last November in Paris, and earlier this month an Indian air force base was attacked.

Modi also said he hoped France could help upgrade India’s infrastructure and transit in 50 of the nation’s cities, according to Reuters.