New Delhi: Ambassador of France to India Emmanuel Lenain has said that all contracted Rafales are to be delivered to India by April 2022. France and India have formed a key partnership in defense. Speaking to our Principal Diplomatic Correspondent, Sidhant Sibal on board the French Navy ship Chevalier Paul he said, “We feel that we are country of the region… we feel we are India’s neighbor… we have territories in the region”. 

He also spoke on AUKUS pact, calling it a “surprise and major disappointment” and was “a major breach of trust”. The AUKUS pact between Australia, US and UK, Canberra gets nuclear submarine but previous deal with France was called off.

Sidhant Sibal: How do you see Indo-French Relationship? The two heads met recently on the sidelines of G20 in Rome.  

Emmanuel Lenain: All along since past two years, we have been talking over the phone due to the Covid crisis. There is an exceptional level of trust and confidence between the two leaders. They share the same aspiration for strategic autonomy for their country.  

Sidhant Sibal: Defence has become a key pillar in this relationship. In fact, it’s also being said that France might replace Russia when it comes to India’s defence relationship. How do you see this relationship prospering & the two countries engaging in the future?  

Emmanuel Lenain: I would say it’s nothing new. We have been cooperating for decades now. First jet aircraft were supplied in 1950s k/a ‘TOOFANI’ and since then, we have been cooperating on Jaguar, Mirage 2000 and now Rafale. The same goes for the navy, we have had outstanding cooperation. Varuna Naval Exercise was held recently. La Pérouse was in April this year along with QUAD countries.  

Sidhant Sibal: How do you see arrival of Chevalier Paul in Mumbai?  

Emmanuel Lenain: It’s a nice symbol of our joint commitment to ensure security and freedom of navigation in the Indo-Pacific. We want to do more in this regard. This isn’t a pure visit by a ship of the French Navy.

It was also the occasion to have a two-day exercise where we have been texting planes from both countries (16 of them), testing the ability of India and its capability to resist an attack from the air successfully. I think it’s been very encouraging to see it.  

Sidhant Sibal: Can you give us details about the Rafale jet arrival in India?

Emmanuel Lenain: Most of them have arrived and it’s a matter of pride for us. Despite all the hardship of the last two years during the COVID-19 crisis, we have been able to deliver on time. In France, teams have been working extra shifts to be able to fulfill the commitment. As of today, 30 have been delivered to India. So, we are on time and we are going to reach the target of having all the 36 delivered by April of next year.  

Sidhant Sibal: You are among the first countries to have come out with a statement on the vision regarding Indo-Pacific Region. What kind of role can the French play in the region?  

Emmanuel Lenain: We feel that we are a country of the region. We feel we are India’s neighbour. We have territories in the region with the substantial area and withholding two million French people. We have a second Economic Zone worldwide, which is something very important. We also have 7,000 troops in the region and ships ensuring freedom of navigation.

So, we see we have a very big role to play in the region. We have a role alone as well as with European partners as you may have seen we have been a driving force to craft European Indo-Pacific Strategy, which has been very recently announced and which is going to be our common framework for the future. It’s a very broad and ambitious strategy. Obviously on military aspects as well as everything pertaining to infrastructure, connectivity, etc, I think how we have to deal with the global strategy.  

Sidhant Sibal: What do you think about the impact of AUKUS with regard to the trilateral talked about, India-France-Australia?  

Emmanuel Lenain: AUKUS was a surprise and major disappointment. It will take some time to draw the consequences of the pact. It’s not a commercial issue as you know. It’s a major breach of trust between allies and that’s something which is very important.  

Now, our commitment to security in Indo-Pacific is total. It doesn’t change it and on contrary, it may increase it. We know we are on the same page and we have partners like India and we also want to speed up because we share the same vision.  

We don’t want any other country to provide us our security. We want our means, our autonomy. We are a sovereign country and want to decide our own future.  

We believe in global strategy and don’t believe in purely military confrontation block against block strategy. We think many countries in the region share the same feeling that this would increase tension in the region. We don’t want to see it.

We feel that strategy must be a holistic one that we need not only to build some military assets but also to provide alternative and positive ones. Countries in the region want to develop, which is legitimate. They want to build infrastructure, roads, ports, means to finance them. We want to be there with India to provide this alternative and have a more global strategy with India and our European partners.  

Sidhant Sibal: What about counterterrorism?  

Emmanuel Lenain: Our cooperation on counterterrorism is very strong. Both nations have been a victim of it. It’s very operational cooperation. Our agencies share inputs, intelligence through best practices. Our elite teams are working together with Black Cats and NSGs. We are also working on a multilateral framework in UNSC and India’s presence in UNSC this year is very important.

We are proponents of the idea and we would like to see India getting a permanent seat in UNSC. Our cooperation has made it possible to enlist terrorists like Massoud Azhar in the sanctions list. It’s also true that we want to tackle the roots of terrorism like attacking the financing of terrorism. India has accepted to host the next summit or conference on ‘No Money Against Terror’, which is the process started by France three years ago.  

Sidhant Sibal: Can we see some high-level engagement in physical terms?  

Emmanuel Lenain: The two leaders are very eager to meet in person to have a substantive discussion. In the near future, this can take place. I won’t be surprised.

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