France invites Manmohan for National Day celebrations as the chief guest
NEW DELHI: France has invited Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to be Chief Guest at its National Day celebrations in July this year
. The invitation by French President Nicolas Sarkozy seeks to reciprocate the Indian gesture of making him the Chief Guest at the Republic Day celebrations last year.
France had asked India in March to be the Chief Guest at its National Day ceremonies on July 14 but South Block wanted the general elections completed before taking a decision on the invitation. “You know that I have chosen to make India a privileged partner of France and, in future, I intend to enhance this major orientation of the foreign policy,”
wrote Mr. Sarkozy in his congratulatory letter to Dr. Singh.
Firming up ties
France, an enthusiastic backer of India at last year’s Nuclear Suppliers Group and International Atomic Energy Association meetings that ended its isolation from the civil nuclear mainstream, is one of the few countries besides the U.S. and Russia with whom India has signed a nuclear cooperation agreement. Both countries continued to hold joint naval exercises even in the aftermath of the nuclear test and their level of comfort came to the fore when France was selected as the Indian Air Force’s first partner for joint fighter level exercises in 2003. Trade, cultural and people-to-people contacts are areas both sides are working on and French companies have a long presence in India.
In the area of defence equipment sales, France has maintained that it is a much more reliable partner than the U.S.
“We are a country which sells military equipment without any preconditions. Even though Russia was the major equipment supplier, France had also sold military equipment to India, a member of Mr. Sarkozy’s entourage during last year’s visit and defence company Dassault’s Chief Executive Officer Charles Edelstenne had told the The Hindu.
July will also mark the visit of the U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for which preparations are on at the South Block and the U.S. Embassy here.
India has received mixed signals on ties under the new Obama-led Democrat Administration. Contacts have been established between senior diplomatic officials and a further exchange of high level officials is on the cards before Ms. Clinton’s visit.