Amid the raging debate over the Rafale fighter jet deal, French President Emmanuel Macron has broken his silence but sought to steer away from the controversial issue. Macron said he was not in power when the multi-billion dollar agreement for 36 fighter jets was signed between India and France.
Speaking to the press on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session, Macron described Rafale as a "government-to-government" discussion.
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Macron was asked if the Indian government had at any point told France or Dassault - the French aerospace major - that they had to accept Reliance as the Indian partner for the Rafale deal.
"I will be very clear. It was a government-to-government discussion and I just want to refer to what Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi very clearly said a few days ago," Macron, who became French President in May last year, told reporters.
"I don't have any other comment. I was not in charge at that time and I know that we have very clear rules," he said in his first comment on the issue.
#WATCH French President Emmanuel Macron on Rafale deal, says, "It was a govt to govt discussion. I just want to refer to what PM Modi very clearly said a few days ago. I was not in-charge at that time. I know that we have very clear rules." (25.09.18) pic.twitter.com/qr0GgHsdoU— ANI (@ANI) September 26, 2018
India had inked an inter-governmental agreement with France in September last year for procurement of 36 Rafale fighter jets at a cost of around Rs 58,000 crore, nearly one-and-half years after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the proposal during a visit to Paris. The delivery of the jets is scheduled to begin from September, 2019.
Macron, who assumed the presidency in 2017 emphasised that this is a government-to-government discussion and "this contract is part of a broader framework which is military and defence" coalition between India and France.
"This one is very important to me because this is a strategic" coalition and not just an industrial relation. "That is my point. I just want to refer to what PM Modi said on this situation," he said.
A huge controversy over the Rafale deal has erupted in India after a report in the French media quoted former president Francois Hollande as saying that the selection of the Indian company in the Rafale deal was done at the behest of New Delhi.
Hollande said that the Indian government proposed Reliance Defence as the partner for the French aerospace giant in the Rs 58,000 crore Rafale deal and France did not have a choice.
His comments to 'Mediapart', a French language publication, triggered sharp reactions from the opposition parties which have been accusing the government of massive irregularities in the deal and benefiting Reliance Defence Limited despite not having any experience in the aerospace sector.
The French government has said it was in no manner involved in the choice of Indian industrial partners.
In its statement, Dassault Aviation said the contract for supply of 36 Rafale jets is a government-to-government agreement, adding "It provides for a separate contract in which Dassault Aviation commits to make compensation investments (offsets) in India worth 50 per cent of the value of the purchase."
(With inputs from PTI)