Prior to his appointment as the French ambassador to India in 2007, Jerome Bonnafont was the technical adviser, diplomatic affairs (1997 to 2004) and the French president's spokesman (2004 to 2007). He was closely associated with President Jacques Chirac's February 2006 visit to India.
The ambassador spoke to Claude Arpi about India's nuclear deal which he terms 'global' and not uniquely 'US' as well as the objectives of the French presidency of the European Union. He points out the implications of the global food crisis as well as the energy issue from the European Union's point of view. He forcefully expresses the commonality of purpose of both France and India in the fight against terrorism and the shared values of democracy, social justice and strategic matters.
During the last few weeks, the 'US nuclear deal' has been the subject of an intense debate in India. Though the Indian media speaks only of a 'US nuclear deal', President Sarkozy initialed a similar deal in January 2008. How do you explain this constant exclusive emphasis on the US? What is the French position on the deal?
In January 1998, when the then president of France, Mr Jacques Chirac was the guest of honour for Republic Day, he already spoke of the possibility of collaborating with India in the civilian nuclear field. It took a long time for this proposition to mature.
It was before Pokhran II?
Indeed, a few months before the tests. In fact, after Pokhran, France did not associate itself with international sanctions because we thought that it was not the appropriate answer. We considered India's position and began to think about a special regime taking into account the fact that while India had not signed the NPT (nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty), India was to be encouraged to continue to adhere to general guidelines of non-proliferation and needed to enter into civilian cooperation in order to develop non CO2 emitting sources of energy.
Keeping this in mind, it took several years to reach something concrete and finally in the early 2000s, discussions began between India and France, the US, and several other countries on modalities for working out such a (special) regime. During 2004 and 2006, the actual deals (please note, not 'deal') were discussed.
The concept was: If we were to resume civilian cooperation with India, it would have to be done by putting the civilian nuclear sector of India under the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) safeguards under the general framework of non-proliferation and nuclear safety and security. The rest would be kept aside. France proceeded on this basis and a first declaration was issued, followed by a second.
A final agreement was initialed when President Sarkozy visited India in January 2008. France has been one of the major initiators of this global concept and instrumental in defining a mechanism that could be acceptable to the IAEA, the international community and, of course, India.
Image: French Ambassador in India Jerome Bonnafont with Shah Rukh Khan after presenting the Bollywood star with the French award Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in Mumbai January 27, 2007. Photograph: Sajjad Hussain/AFP/Getty Images
Also see: France wants nuclear co-operation with India