India remains a "major priority" in France's external relations and the two nations are in intense cooperation in sensitive areas such as defence, nuclear energy, space, security and counter-terrorism, visiting French defence minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Friday.
Le Drian is on a visit to India to mark the 15th anniversary of the Indo-French Strategic Partnership launched in 1998. Here to introduce a French white paper on 'defence and national security', he was delivering a talk on the Indo-French defence partnership at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) in New Delhi.
"The threat level has not dipped but the crisis in Europe has weakened our public finances," said Le Drian. "On an average, this accounts for a defence spending of 1.8 per cent of France's GDP till 2020, according to NATO norms."
Responding to a query on the ''delay'' around the Rs50,000 crore deal for supplying 126 Rafale combat aircraft to India, Le Drian said the projects of such magnitude take time.
"The schedule and the pace of the project are normal," he said, and expressed hope that India and France will continue to work together on many other projects as well.
In a separate interview with Hindustan Times, Le Drian said the Rafale was selected in February 2012. ''Negotiations take time – that's natural, they are progressing well and I am confident.
''This is the biggest armament tender of the world, so we have to establish a collaboration with industrial partners that will last for decades and negotiate the clauses of the contract itself.
''Dassault (the manufacturer of the Rafale) is fully committed to this historic and strategic project. I would recommend patience and optimism. As your external affairs minister once said in this regard, A good French wine takes time to mature and so do good contracts."
He added, our defence relation is a longstanding one, initiated more than 60 years ago with successful joint achievements, such as the Toofan / Ouragan helicopter as early as 1953 or later the Milan missile. I am convinced it will continue to grow in scope, in maturity and in strength.''
He also praised ''the deep commitment and long-term visions of your former prime ministers Inder Kumar Gujral, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and the present incumbent, Manmohan Singh.
''India and France share the same goal and support each other in strengthening their strategic autonomy,'' he said.
He added that India and France will continue to discuss cyber security within the framework of strategic relations. An Indo-French cyber security dialogue has been launched.