Defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman will leave for France on Wednesday night on a three-day visit, which comes in the backdrop of a huge controversy over the procurement of 36 Rafale jets from French aerospace major Dassault Aviation. Officials sources said Ms Sitharaman will hold wide-ranging talks with her French counterpart Florence Parly on ways to deepen strategic cooperation between the two countries and also deliberate on major regional and global issues of mutual interests. Ms Sitharaman, who will hold with Parly the first edition of defence dialogue, will leave for Paris late Wednesday night and conclude her visit on Saturday, they said.
The sources said besides exploring ways to boost bilateral defence cooperation, Sitharaman will also take stock of progress in the supply of 36 Rafale jets by Dassault to the Indian Air Force under a Rs 58,000-crore deal.Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced the procurement of a batch of 36 Rafale jets after talks with the then French President Francois Hollande on April 10, 2015, in Paris. The final deal was sealed on September 23, 2016.
The Congress has been alleging massive irregularities in the deal, saying the government was procuring each aircraft at a cost of over Rs 1,670 crore as against Rs 526 crore finalised by the UPA government when it was negotiating the deal. The Congress has also been targeting the government over the selection of Reliance Defence as an offset partner for Dassault.