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NEW DELHI: Even as India finds itself the cynosure of quadrilaterals and minilaterals in the Indian Ocean and the freshly minted Indo-Pacific region, New Delhi is keen to keep ties with one of its oldest partners bilateral. “India is our strategic partner in Asia. We are in the process of forging a strong defence and security partnership in the Indian Ocean,” said Alexander Ziegler, French ambassador, briefing journalists on the eve of their foreign minister Jean Yves Le Drian’s visit.
“He comes two weeks after our defence minister visited Delhi, six weeks after our NSA visited for the strategic dialogue, and ahead of the visit of our President Macron early next year,” Ziegler said emphasising the growing momentum in ties between the two countries. Le Drian’s main objective will be to prepare the ground for President Emmanuel Macron expected here in early 2018, his visit having been pushed back from December.
Le Drian will have meetings with foreign minister Sushma Swaraj and finance minister Arun Jaitley, besides with power minsister R K Singh, HRD minister Prakash Javadekar and others.
“Our relationship is based on three pillars — defence and strategic partnership; partnership for the future i.e. non-carbon energy, smart cities and green mobility; people to people which includes education; nuclear energy and space.”
“India is keen to keep our bilateral relationship the way it is. Varuna, for instance, is the oldest naval exercise that India started with any country in 1983,” said French officials.
With the largest exclusive economic zone (EEC) in the Indian Ocean (2 million square kms) and strategic real estate in Mauritius, Seychelles and Madagascar as well as active naval bases in Djibouti, Reunion islands and even the UAE, France is acoveted strategic partner.
There is a great trust factor with India, they said. So expanding the quadrilateral, or expanding this working relationship just for the sake of it would be counterproductive, they felt.
This was also the view of Indian strategists, they indicated. French officials pointed to the depth of India’s strategic and security relationship with India, saying other countries could join the India-France group, but going multilateral would dilute the strength of the current cooperation.