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Joint Press Interaction by Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh and President of France Jacques Chirac

- Hyderabad House, New Delhi 20th of February 2006 -
Your Excellency President Chirac,
Ladies and gentlemen of the press,

It is a privilege to welcome President Chirac and his distinguished delegation to India.

Our relations with France, a global power and one of the anchors of our ties with the European Union, are special and privileged. President Chirac is a respected senior world statesman and a true friend of India. The vibrant strategic partnership that we enjoy today was initiated during President Chirac's visit to India in 1998 and strengthened with his guidance and leadership.

Last year, I met President Chirac twice, in Paris and Gleneagles. We are indeed extremely happy that the positive momentum in our relations has been maintained and strengthened by President Chirac's current visit to India.

Our discussions today have been very useful in taking forward our partnership. The range of Agreements signed today provide an indication of the extensive and substantive engagement between India and France. We have also issued a Joint Statement that clearly indicates the direction in which our strategic partnership will proceed.

The Declaration on Cooperation in the development of Nuclear Energy for Peaceful Purposes and the Agreement on Defence Cooperation are among the most important outcomes of the visit. We appreciate France's support for the ongoing effort to enable full civilian nuclear energy cooperation between India and the international community. President Chirac was one of the first world leaders to support such an initiative and I thank him for his strong and consistent leadership on a matter of great importance for India's energy security.

Cooperation in the space sector is another important aspect of our relations with France, which is progressing well. We also deeply appreciate France's support to India's candidature for permanent membership of the UN Security Council.

The economic engagement between India and France is an important element of our Strategic Partnership. It is my hope that trade and investment will continue to grow. There are significant complementarities between our economies and we must make all efforts to exploit the existing untapped potential. French companies should take advantage of the immense opportunities offered by India's rapid economic growth and science and technology potential. Last September in Paris, the President and I had expressed our resolve to double bilateral trade within 5 years. We identified infrastructure, IT, pharmaceuticals, environment, advanced and new technologies, food processing, automobiles and aeronautics as priority sectors for forging business partnerships.

We also discussed ways to further strengthen our bilateral relationship. France and India share common views on a range of regional and global issues. We reiterated our commitment to work together to address global challenges. We continue to cooperate in fighting terrorism, on non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, in promoting sustainable development, and in the effective management of globalization.

India supports President Chirac's initiative for looking at innovative sources of financing to tackle diseases such as HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria, which afflict millions the world over. We recognized that Indian pharmaceutical companies have emerged as global leaders in the fight against these diseases.

President Chirac's visit is another milestone in the expansion of our civilizational ties that are based on mutual trust and shared values. Once again, Mr. President, a very warm welcome to you and the distinguished members of your delegation.

{The above statement was circulated at the Joint Press Interaction}

PRIME MINISTER MANMOHAN SINGH: President Chirac; distinguished members of the French delegation; ladies and gentlemen:

It is an honour for me and for my colleagues in the Government of India to welcome President Chirac in our country. India and France have a very close strategic relationship. In recent years this relationship has gone from strength to strength to a large extent because of the personal interest and involvement of President Jacques Chirac in fostering closer cooperation between our two countries.

Mr. President, in you we have a world statesman of rare wisdom, knowledge and experience and it is a proud privilege of our country to count as a very dear and special friend of our country.

Today marks another landmark in the development of our relationship. We have signed nine Agreements or Memoranda of Understanding. These include such vital areas as cooperation in the field of civilian nuclear energy, defence cooperation, cooperation in the field of space, cooperation in the field of education, science and technology, and culture. In all these respects the process that we have set in motion today will ensure in years to come a far more productive, a far more durable, a far more mutually beneficial relationship between our two countries.

We have discussed developments in the global political and economic scene. We have also had a very fruitful discussion on regional and bilateral issues. I am very glad to report that there is complete convergence of views on all these important matters between our two countries.

Mr. President, your landmark visit has opened up new pathways of cooperation between our two countries and I thank you from the core of my heart for having found time to visit us.

PRESIDENT CHIRAC: Prime Minister; ladies and gentlemen:

First of all allow me to thank the Prime Minister and the Indian authorities once again for the extraordinary warm welcome extended to us since our arrival here in India. We, that is to say myself and my delegation, have been especially touched by this hospitality and this generosity. In particular I refer to the hospitality I enjoyed yesterday on the part of the Prime Minister.

We are two countries, two nations, that have indeed much in common; countries that have in common longstanding old culture; countries that are deeply attached to our national independence; countries that share the same ideals of democracy and respect to human rights; and countries that recognise the importance of abiding by the rule of international law as enshrined in the United Nations Charter.

We also uphold other values in common such as the importance of secularism, a concern for the need to help the world’s poorest countries in their development effort. Let me make an aside here to underscore the importance I attach to India’s endorsement and support for initiative on innovative financing, an innovative funding front. In fact the Prime Minister has told me that India is going to be sending a ministerial representation to the forthcoming Paris Conference on this topic. So, we are countries that indeed share a lot in common, values and beliefs.

We, of course, have discussed during the course of our meeting, a number of topics with the Prime Minister. We examined, for instance, our respective points of view which I might add were extremely convergent, on the subject of India’s access to civilian nuclear technology. This access, we feel on the side of France, is indeed necessary in order to drive and fuel India’s economic development without at one and the same time leading to excessive pollution which would arrive from large-scale emission of greenhouse gases.

We at the same time fully understand on the French side the concerns and the constraints faced by the Indian authorities and Indian Government, be they of an economic nature or they have to do with India’s national independence and security constraints and needs. Here there has been once again no divergence or difference of opinion between us.

We, as you saw, have also agreed to sign, you are witness to this fact, a defence agreement which further consolidates our cooperation in the defence arena showing thus a strengthening of solidarity both in terms of defence and in terms of procurement of equipment - military procurement.

We covered a range of economic and trade issues. I think it is very striking to note that there is a shared commitment on both sides - commitment that also has to be stepped up and increased on both sides - to increasing trade flows and economic ties between our two countries.

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank the captains of industry, members of the French business community who have come along with me on this trip and who will be attending the economic forum which the Prime Minister and I are organising this afternoon, as you know. As a result of this commitment, as a result of these agreements and of this cooperation, we have set to ourselves the lofty goal of doubling, increasing two-fold, within the next five years the trade flows between our two countries.

That is all. This whole scale strengthening of our ties be they of a political or economic nature, the ties that link India to France and France to India, I think are being borne out as evident by all these agreements and by the series of understandings that have characterised our thought.

I wish lastly, once again to avail myself of the opportunity of thanking the Prime Minister, the Indian authorities for their warm welcome, for the hospitality, and indeed for the Indian President for the magnificent ceremony that was laid out for us this morning.

QUESTION (FRENCH MEDIA): President, Sir, Mr. Mittal has been stepping up the number of interviews that he has been giving and statements that he has been making in which he had deplored what he called the hostile welcome that he has received or the hostile reactions that he has come up against in France. He says that he has been misinterpreted, misunderstood, and he has even referred to possible xenophobia in respect of this attitude. Would you, if you have the opportunity to meet him, wish to clear up any misunderstanding arising as a result of this?

PRESIDENT CHIRAC: I would really have difficulty in understanding this controversy. Just look at it as it stands right now. Clearly it involves two parties, two sides. On the one hand we have a British citizen, Indian born British national, who is taking an initiative vis-à-vis a Dutch company and a Luxembourg company. Therefore, as things stand right now, as we see things unfold, all we know is that a hostile bid has been made by the person in question which is of a purely financial nature. There has been no presentation of any kind of industrial plan, industrial development plan. There has been no prior consultation, which is in fact contrary to usual practice in such matters.

That being said, it is his right to be so and to act in this manner as it is equally the right of Europeans to care about their job, their future and the technologies involved, of what the future holds in store for them. We know, as I have already said, nothing more than what I have said that this is a financial offer, this is a hostile bid. We do not know anything about the content of what is intended. Therefore, we will wait and see. We are not prejudging anything. But this is the gist of what the Europeans have been saying to their shareholders, the European companies have been saying to their shareholders.

Now, we have nothing against in principle, absolutely nothing against, a non-European bidding on a European company or enterprise. Far from it. All I am saying is that we are waiting to see what the bid, what the offer, actually involves before we pass judgement on it or before we have anything to say on the subject. Therefore, I think that the concerns that have been expressed are entirely legitimate and I repeat what I said at the outset. I do not understand what all the fuss is about. I do not understand what the controversy is about.

QUESTION (PARUL MALHOTRA, CNN-IBN): This is a question for both the Prime Minister and President Chirac, on the same issue.
President Chirac, Sir, you have just clarified some of your position on that. Could you confirm if the bid is assessed as unhealthy for the company in question Arcelor, would your Government take any direct or indirect action to block that?
Prime Minister, Sir, did you raise this issue in your talks with the President? Do you believe that racism or protectionism has had any role to play in this matter?
PRESIDENT CHIRAC: Madam, if that is what you have understood, I would say that you have misunderstood. I repeat what I said earlier on. We do not act nor have we any intention of acting, against a company or procedure. The situation as it stands right now is that quite simply a hostile bid has been made contrary to practice, with no prior explanation, no reasons given, on a large company, European company. As I said, we were given no reasons for this bid, we have no notion of what intention lies ahead for the company in question. There is no plan that has been presented. Presently we are standing by and waiting for such explanations to be given. As a result when they come, and if they come, we will act in accordance with a set number of principles and values and in particular the independence and respecting and upholding the independence of the private sector.

PRIME MINISTER MANMOHAN SINGH: Question was asked, ‘Did I raise this issue with the President?’ Yes, this matter did come up during our discussion. The President explained the positions in detail. It is my hope that a fair decision, taking into account the interests of all the stakeholders, will be taken in this matter.

QUESTION (FRENCH MEDIA): This is a two-fold question to the President and the Prime Minister.
Mr. President, France has been very active in striving to achieve for India access to civilian nuclear technology, access to a status whereby it could access civilian nuclear technology. If the outcome to all of this is successful, and if indeed the international community goes along with it, what makes you believe that French companies would get, would win the contracts and the bids that would necessarily flow from such a decision. Could it not be American companies or other companies rather than France or French companies?
Prime Minister, Sir, would you be prepared, were all of this to go through, to place the installations and facilities in question, the programmes and the development of these programmes, under strict IAEA safeguards as indeed is mentioned in the agreement that has just been signed?

PRESIDENT CHIRAC: I said earlier on exactly what France’s position was on this matter. France is supportive of India. It is supportive of India as a function of two principles, the first being a moral issue, a moral principle. India must be allowed to achieve its necessary economic development without facing a stranglehold of economic constraints and energy constraints. The second is an environmental principle - principle of safeguarding the environment. In other words India, which is a responsible country, a responsible nation, should be able to produce the energy that it needs for its own development without, at one and the same time this having a negative fallout or impact on the world as a whole as a result of greenhouse gas emission.

We equally understand India’s position in this connection. We are supportive of India in this position. We know that India has a number of constraints, a number of objectives. Some of these objectives are also economic ones. But what France … or France’s support for India is a matter of principle. Of course, there will be, there is, somewhere along the line, the issue of Franco-Indian economic cooperation, on this particular front and I hope that there will be cooperation, enhanced cooperation between our two countries. But I repeat that has nothing to do with it because our support to India is principled support. It has nothing to do with economic cooperation, ties or development.

PRIME MINISTER MANMOHAN SINGH: We are very grateful to President Chirac and the Government of France for the principled position they have taken in promoting cooperation between India and the members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group relating to facilities, material covered by the nuclear field. As far as India is concerned, we are committed to honouring in letter and spirit the statement that I and President Bush jointly signed on 18th of July.

A question was asked about any international facilities that may become available to India through processes of enhanced international cooperation. I confirm that all facilities procured by India through international cooperation for civilian nuclear energy will, of course, be subject to safeguards. I am talking of any facility that may become available to India in the future through international cooperation, they will be of course subject to safeguards under the International Atomic Energy Agency.

QUESTION (RAJEEV SHARMA, THE TRIBUNE): My question is to President Chirac. France entered into strategic partnership with India in 1998. How has this strategic partnership evolved over the past eight years? Do you believe that the civilian nuclear energy cooperation agreement can act as perfect icing on the cake of this strategic partnership? What are the difficulties in its implementation?

PRESIDENT CHIRAC: France indeed, as you rightly said, entered in 1998 into a strategic cooperation agreement with India. This cooperation agreement was based on a number of principles which I listed earlier on and on a number of common interests. Since that day, since 1998, our relations have been constantly strengthening. They are longstanding, they are permanent and they are very close in a wide variety of different fields. At the international level you know that we have always been extremely supportive of India’s bid to a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council and we will continue to be so. You know that we are supportive of India’s bid to be able to develop its own nuclear electricity-generating programme. We have strong political comfort on a number of important political issues. We share many views in common as far as world affairs are concerned. In fact on most issues on the world scene we have convergent views. Our economic ties as you have heard have also been constantly tightening over the past eight years and I hope that they will continue to do so in the years to come. So, this is the short answer to your question. Yes, I do believe that these relationships, this agreement has been seen to strengthen. These relations are becoming ever tighter, ever closer between India and France, something that the Prime Minister further confirmed to me today. We hope that this would continue in the future, which I cannot but applaud on my side.