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The French connection

French President Jacques Chirac will arrive in New Delhi from Bangkok on February 19 on a three-day State visit.

Five French ministers -- including the ministers for external affairs, defence, economy and foreign trade -- about 30 French CEOs and several journalists are part of Chirac's entourage.

Chirac was in India last as the chief guest for Republic Day 1998, and the strategic partnership he signed with India weathered the nuclear tests in May that year, which sparked international outrage. Interestingly, he was also the Republic Day chief guest in 1976, while he was the French prime minister, during the Emergency when India and its then prime minister Indira Gandhi were shunned by the West.

The importance France attaches to India was evident from the fact that Chirac, 74, broke protocol by receiving Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the French presidential Elysee Palace on September 11 last year. It was Chirac's first public engagement after a suspected stroke, although official versions said it was a 'small vascular accident.'

Later that day, Dr Singh confirmed that that India would buy 6 French Scorpene attack submarines and 43 Airbus aircraft.

'A robust partnership'

During Chirac's visit, India and France will sign two major accords on civilian nuclear cooperation and defence cooperation, which are likely to be formally announced at a joint press conference on February 20 at Hyderabad House in New Delhi. Other accords on joint production of satellites and trade expansion are also expected.

Confirming the nuclear deal, French Ambassador to India Dominique Girard said, 'We do not know what form it will take but it will be somewhat similar to the framework cooperation agreement between the US and India. For us, however, it is much simpler than is the case with the US because it is a much older relationship in the field of nuclear cooperation.'

President Chirac greets Prime Minister Singh at the presidential palace in Paris, September 11, 2005.

Text: Ramananda Sengupta. Photograph: Press Information Bureau

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