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India expands European ties

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As relations with the United States warmrapidly , India is looking now to strengthen economic and security ties with Britain and France - two of the other four permanent members of the United Nations Security Council - and the European Union as a whole.

Last week British Prime Minister Tony Blair, acting as president of the EU, argued in New Delhi for closer economic and security ties between Europe and India.

On a two-day visit to India during which he was to represent the EU on Wednesday and Britain on Thursday, Blair focused his talks with his Indian counterpart, Manmohan Singh, on expanding business ties.

'We have agreed that there is no place for terrorism in the civilised world' - Singh

The two leaders pledged to cooperate in disrupting terrorist networks and to expand ties in business, science and technology.

Top EU and Indian officials will hold senior-level talks on disarmament and non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, on terrorism and its financing and on organised crime.

“We have agreed that there is no place for terrorism in the civilised world, and that we would work together towards fighting it,” Singh said.

Signalling its growing economic clout, India last week announced that the state-owned carrier, Indian Airlines, would buy 43 European-made Airbus jets for more than $2 billion.

The European Union is already India’s largest trading partner while Britain is the largest investor in India.

Also this week, France came out strongly in support of India’s bid for a permanent seat in an expanded UN Security Council, saying Delhi’s aspiration was “legitimate” and hoped it would be realised.

Britain also strongly supports India’s bid for a permanent seat on an expanded United Nations Security Council but the EU is split. Germany is also seeking a permanent seat, as are Japan and Brazil.

“It seems to be very clear if we want effective multilateral institutions then those effective multilateral institutions have got to take account of the world as it is today and not the world as it was,” Mr. Blair told reporters.

Speaking after a meeting with Mr. Singh who was visiting Paris before going on to New York for the United Nations summit, President Jacques Chirac also announced India’s purchase of six Scorpene submarines from France.

Both countries have also decided to have a framework agreement on defence cooperation, noting that the joint exercises carried out by their armed forces testified to the “high degree of confidence” built over the years.

“In order to further strengthen the defence relationship, the two countries will hold discussions with a view to finalising a framework agreement on defence cooperation at an early date,” a Joint Statement issued after talks said.

Welcoming Mr. Singh at the Elysee Palace in Paris, President Chirac also expressed his determination to move forward for cooperation between the two countries in the field of nuclear energy.

'France has always supported India’s positions' - Chirac

Emphasising that for France, India was a “major partner” of the world today, he said “and this is the reason why France has always supported India’s positions, in particular her legitimate aspiration for a seat at the UN Security Council as a permanent member.”

Mr. Chirac said India-France relations and interactions dealt with major international issues, such as the preparation of the upcoming UN meeting, problems related to terrorism and development and all crises existent in the world.

The French submarine deal involves the manufacture of six Scorpene SSK-class submarines at a naval dockyard in Bombay and is initially estimated to be worth about US $1.8 billion.

The deal is the latest in a series of defence purchases by New Delhi which is on a modernising spree of its ageing, largely Russian military equipment.

It comes after a US $5.7-billion arms purchases by New Delhi last year, which took it past Saudi Arabia and China to become the developing world’s leading buyer, according to a US Congress study.

Mr. Singh said last week he had cleared the purchase of 43 aircraft from European plane maker Airbus for state-run Indian Airlines, a deal worth US $2.2 billion.

The Indian prime minister said his country was looking to expand cooperation with France in trade, investment, defence, space technology, civilian nuclear energy, advanced science and cultural ties.

In an interview to the Le Figaro newspaper, Singh vowed that any outside help India gets with its nuclear energy ambitions would be kept entirely separate from its military nuclear programme, which resulted in nuclear tests in 1998.

Mr. Singh has already won pledges of help in the nuclear energy sector from the US and Britain, despite his country’s refusal to sign the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

He sought to differentiate India from archrival Pakistan, saying “India is a democracy that functions well. Our political system offers sufficient guarantees to ensure that we keep our promises.”

Britain, for its part, announced last week that it would press for India’s participation in a global research effort into nuclear fusion, following the recent anointment of India by the Bush administration in Washington as a “responsible” nuclear-armed nation.

Mr. Blair also suggested that his EU partners emulate what he described as Britain’s close ties to India: “The rest of the world has got to enter into the right and equal partnership with India for mutual benefit, and that’s what’s happening,” Blair said, according to the BBC.

Blair called a new phase in EU-India ties “long overdue” and said relations were at a “turning point,” nearing a “new, higher and more intensive level.”

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