Today, the Indian Prime Minister begins his first official visit to France since his accession to power in 2004. His visit comes after the agreement reached on 18th July between the United States and India in view of the lifting of sanctions on the acquisition of nuclear reactors and fuel. Paris will lay out the red carpet for the Indian Prime Minister, therewith making valuable the bilateral “strategic partnership” signed in 1998, during a visit to Delhi by Jacques Chirac. The visit comes at a favourable moment: India has just announced the purchase of 43 Airbus by the company Indian Airlines for approximately 2 billion euros. In addition the Prime Minister should announce the purchase of six Franco-Spanish Scorpene submarines with classic propulsion in Paris, for 2.4 billion euros. The submarines will be manufactured in India, in partnership with France. In 2006, it will be the turn of Jacques Chirac to return to India. Before his arrival, Manmohan Singh gave an interview to Le Figaro

Le Figaro - The United States is ready to supply nuclear reactors and fuel to India although it has not signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. What are you expecting from other exporters of nuclear power, particularly France?

Manmohan Singh - The agreement signed with the United States on 18th July during my visit to Washington aims to remove the obstacles that impede us from developing our civil nuclear industry. A dominant concern for us is our excessive dependence on petroleum product imports. Taking into account our strong growth, this dependence risks to aggravate, which will further drive up petroleum prices. This is a problem that does not only concern only India and the United States, but the entire world. This is why the international community must help India to develop new source of non-polluting energy, which will help to reduce the global demand for hydrocarbons and shall contribute to boost our economy, create employment and fight poverty. That is why we consider that restrictive regimes like those of Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) must be abandoned. The United States has promised to persuade other member countries of the NSG to help us develop our civil nuclear sector. I hope that France, which has always supported us in our aspirations in this respect, will play a major role in order to help us.

What concessions is India ready to make to fulfil the conditions of the Non-Proliferation Treaty?

We are not members of the NPT, but we fulfil the majority of its conditions. We have decreed a unilateral moratorium on nuclear tests; our behaviour has always been irreproachable and nobody can accuse India of having contributed to proliferation of sensitive technologies. We have always said that all help brought in by the international community will be used to develop our civil nuclear programme and we hence engage ourselves to separate it from our military nuclear programme. In addition, by contributing to the fight against proliferation, India will help to widen the gap between the threat of the link between international terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.

Does the French nuclear industry have a role to play in India in this context?

We are cooperating for a long time with the French industry in this sector. I hope that if the restrictions are lifted, there will be possibilities for India to import reactors from countries like France. France is eminently qualified to play this role, given its own personal experience.

Doesn’t the regime of non-proliferation risk of being compromised by the exemptions given to India? Other countries like Pakistan have already asked for the same thing.

One more time, taking into account our irreproachable conduct in non-proliferation matters, there is no risk that help given to the Indian civil nuclear programme could bring prejudice to whomsoever. I will make no more comment on other countries. India is a democracy that works well. Our political system offers sufficient guarantees to ensure that we keep our engagements.

You are en-route for the General Assembly of the United Nations in New York. Do you still have hope that India will obtain a seat at the Security Council with veto powers?

I am convinced that there exists a large international consensus for India to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council. We are very grateful to the government and to the French people for their support in this matter. I have full confidence that at the time when the UN Security Council should be enlarged, India’s candidature will receive all the attention that it deserves.

You will meet the Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf on September 14 in New York. Where is the process of normalisation between India and Pakistan?

There exists a real willingness at the highest levels in both our countries to push forward the dialogue that resumed in 2004. India is committed to peace, friendship and good neighbourly relations with Pakistan. Our conscious policy has always been “people-centric” with emphasis on promoting people-to-people exchanges across the spectrum. The Indo-Pakistani diplomatic relations have been normalised. The bus service between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad is working well. We are working actively to put into place other transportation links, by road and rail.

The United States is going in reverse on the UN Development Programme. What do you think?

The international community cannot be happy to post great ambitions without giving itself the means to realise them. It is evident that many of the objectives fixed will not be attained. Development cannot be simply imported. Developing countries must mobilise themselves to promote their own resources. The international environment must support the aspirations of developing countries. It must favour exchange of trade, investment, transfers of technology, and also, put into place an equitable regime concerning the rights of intellectual property. Three months to the ministerial meeting in Hong Kong, the questions of development have not been taken into enough consideration. The rules of the intellectual property, those which are currently defined, permit private companies in developed countries to conserve well the technologies, which cruelly bring shortcomings to developing countries who do not have the means to acquire them. This concerns the fight against disease and pollution.

What must be done to reinforce Franco-Indian relations?

The volume of trade exchange and investment, and also the transfer of technology are well short of their potential. At 1.51 billion euros, French exports to India do not even represent 0.44% of the total imports of the country. The French investments, in itself, are only 2.84% of the total. We also have very close ties with France in defence matters. We wish to develop these ties but we also need France to help us modernise our economy. French companies can play a role in the domains of energy, electricity, hydrocarbons, infrastructure, agribusiness, pharmaceuticals and environment.

Don’t the privileged relations between India and the United States risk in bringing prejudice to the Franco-Indian cooperation in the matter of defence?

A window has been opened with the United States, but our defence programmes are based on the principle of tenders. I have no reason to think that the relations with France will be affected by our partnership with the United States. French competencies are well known in defence matters. You are the outposts of savoir-faire and of technology.