India regards France as one of its most valued strategic partners: Manmohan Singh

New Delhi, Feb. 14 (ANI): Asserting that India regards France as one of its most valued strategic partners, Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh on Thursday said the relationship between the two sides is defined by the breadth and diversity of our cooperation, and by the intensity of the bilateral dialogue.

"It gives me great pleasure to welcome President Francois Hollande on his state visit to India. India is his first Asian destination for a bilateral visit. This demonstrates the importance of this relationship to our two countries," said Dr. Singh in his opening statement to the media with French President Francois Hollande by his side.

"India regards France as one of its most valued strategic partners. France has given us strong and steadfast support at difficult moments. Our relationship is defined by the breadth and diversity of our cooperation, as well as by the intensity of our dialogue. The Joint Statement that is being released today reflects the broad range of activities that is covered by our mutually beneficial engagement," he added.

Dr. Singh said that today that he exchanged views on a number of bilateral, regional and multilateral issues of common interest with President Hollande.

"We reviewed progress on the Jaitapur Nuclear Power Project and reiterated our commitment to its early implementation as soon as the commercial and technical negotiations, which have made good progress, are completed," said Dr. Singh.

The Prime Minister said the two sides also expressed satisfaction with the progress in defence cooperation, which is poised to reach a qualitatively new level.

"Discussions on the MMRCA contract are progressing well. We have also concluded negotiations on the Short Range Surface to Air Missile, which, once approved by the Government, will be co-developed and co-produced in India," said Dr. Singh.

"There is a welcome shift from defence trade to co-development and co-production of advanced defence items in India, which will help expand our domestic production base and strengthen the India-France strategic partnership," he added.

Dr. Singh said both sides had also agreed to further strengthen counter-terrorism and intelligence cooperation.

Stating that France has been a longstanding partner in our space programme, Dr. Singh said: "In September 2012, I was happy to witness ISRO's 100th mission, which successfully put a French satellite in orbit. Later this month, ISRO will launch the integrated SARAL satellite carrying the ALTIKA and ARGOS payloads from the French National Space Agency."

"Both President Hollande and I agreed on the need to reinvigorate our bilateral economic engagement by harnessing the enormous synergies between our two economies. We welcome the appointment of a French Special Representative for the economic relationship with India. We also look forward to the recommendations of the India-France CEOs Forum to energize our economic relations," he added.

Dr. Singh further said a broad-based India-EU Trade and Investment Agreement, currently under negotiation, would open new opportunities for trade and investment between the two countries.

"I have requested President Hollande's support in ensuring an early conclusion of a balanced and mutually beneficial Agreement," he added.

Emphasizing that culture is as strong a binding force as any between India and France, Dr. Singh said: "The second edition of "Bonjour India" is being organized currently in India. The new Cultural Exchange Programme that was signed today and the decision by French film festivals, including the Cannes festival, to celebrate the centenary of Indian cinema will further strengthen our cultural relations."

"President Hollande and I also had productive discussions on regional and global issues. France and India share similar worldviews on many issues, including on the need to stabilize the global economy and combat terrorism. We also discussed the situation in Mali. As part of our support to the Malian defence forces and the African-led International Support Mission, India has announced an assistance of one million US dollars at the Donors Conference held recently in Addis Ababa," he added.

Welcoming the French President to India, Dr. Singh said that he looks forward to working with him to further expand and deepen the special bilateral relationship between the two nations. (ANI)

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