France today pitched for starting negotiations over procurement of another batch of 36 Rafale jets by India with French President Emmanuel Macron describing the fighter jet programme as a key aspect of the bilateral defence cooperation.
Sources said there was a communication from the French government recently indicating its eagerness in making an announcement by the two sides favouring additional procurement of Rafale jets for the Indian Air Force.
They said the issue of Rafale deal figured in the talks between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Macron.
"India had made a sovereign decision in this respect (Rafale fighter jet) and we are monitoring the progress in the field. We very much want to continue the programme.
"It is a long-term contract which is mutually beneficial. I personally consider it as the heart of the strategic partnership," Macron said in a statement to media after talks with Modi.
India had signed a government-to-government deal with France in 2016 to buy 36 Rafale fighter jets at a cost of about the Rs 58,000 crore. The Congress has been demanding details of the deal, alleging that the deal negotiated under its rule was much cheaper than the contract signed by the Modi government.
Officials said the French side pitched for procurement of another batch of 36 Rafale jets by India during the talks between French Defence Minister Florence Parly and her Indian counterpart Nirmala Sitharaman.
In the meeting, Parly said extending the current deal will further bolster defence cooperation between the two countries, they said. The Indian side conveyed that no decision has been taken yet on the issue.
The Indian Air Force has also been favouring procurement of more Rafale jets from France. It had communicated to India earlier too, seeking additional orders of Rafale jets.
In the talks, Modi and Macron noted with satisfaction the "on-schedule" progress in the implementation of acquisition- related agreements, including the Rafale aircraft deal, a joint statement issued after Modi-Macron talks said.
"They looked forward to continue their discussions to expand and deepen the ongoing defence manufacturing partnerships," it said.
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