India and France to negotiate on nuclear power

India and France will negotiate a pact to cooperate on nuclear power, officials said Monday after talks between Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and French President Jacques Chirac.

During the meeting, which focused on strengthening the countries' strategic partnership, Singh also confirmed plans to buy six French submarines and 43 Airbus planes.

Chirac called India "a major partner" and said the submarine and plane orders, which had previously been announced by Indian officials, were a sign "of trust, friendship and cooperation."

"I am delighted that the prime minister confirms to us today the decision by India concerning the purchases of six Scorpene submarines and 43 Airbus," Chirac said.

The meeting was the first official engagement for 72-year-old Chirac since he was released from hospital Friday following a weeklong stay for what doctors said was a blood vessel problem that affected his eyesight. Chirac greeted Singh on the front steps of the French presidential Elysee Palace.

In a joint declaration, the two announced their intention to "work toward the conclusion of an agreement on bilateral cooperation in the nuclear field." The document, very general, offered no details.

India wants to reduce its reliance on oil by developing nuclear energy. It hopes to import French nuclear reactors, Singh said in an interview published Monday in Le Figaro newspaper.

Singh first announced the Airbus deal last week at an India-EU summit. He said Indian Airlines agreed to buy the 19 A319s, four A320s, and 20 A321s for US$2.2 billion (Ђ1.77 billion).

On photo: Jacques Chirac.

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