Q. The Rafales participated in the 88th Air Force Day.
A. It was a moment of immense pride. It was the result of years of hard work. We are proud to have been able to deliver on time despite Covid-19. It is a commitment that we have managed to keep.
Q. How many aircraft were delivered.
A. Everything is delivered on time. When we talk about delivery, 12 of them were delivered to France in total and five were transported to India keeping in mind that as long as they remain in France after delivery, training of pilots and technicians can to take place.
Q. What is the delivery time?
A. A total of 12 Rafale jets have been delivered to date. 7 are in France and 5 in India. We are on schedule. In all, 36 jets would be delivered.
Q. On the strategic partnership between India and France. Where do you see it heading?
A. If you want to achieve such a strategic partnership, you have to have complete trust in each other. There is no other country we trust and value more than India. We are totally aligned and have the same values.
We have been partners in good times and bad, for example during the nuclear tests of 1998. Not everyone supported India. You (India) have been sanctioned by some countries, but we have never sanctioned India. We are autonomous, independent and we understand what you want to achieve. We support each other.
During Covid-19, India provided medical help and support when we needed it. We are ready to return the favor. My president has decided, as a very strong gesture, to grant 200 million euros to provide essential services and equipment like test kits, etc. to India.
The first batch of equipment landed in India around the same time the first five Rafales landed here.
Q. Is the aid of 200 million euros entirely intended for the Covid response?
A. Yes. It is for people to access certain social services, including points of the food delivery system thanks to French development aid. I was very impressed when I visited one of these delivery centers.
Q. How does France perceive the India-China border tensions?
A. We obviously monitor very carefully what is happening at the border. As you know, we always say that disputes should be resolved peacefully and we really appreciate and commend India’s efforts.
We condemn all political expansionism anywhere in the world. Are we determined to help India in the long term to protect its autonomy, yes that is what we are doing in defense cooperation and Rafale is a prime example of that.
Q. India’s Western Front is of great concern as Pakistan uses asymmetric warfare. How do you see things at the FATF?
A. The fight against terrorism is something that unites us. India and France are two countries victims of terrorism. We are fighting terrorism. This is a very important area of cooperation. The fight against terrorism is the fight against the financing of terrorism, which is why my country organized the “No Money For Terror” conference. And I am happy that India is hosting the next conference. Hopefully this will happen soon as it has been postponed due to coronavirus.
At FATF, we are really involved in the process as professionally and efficiently as possible. It is technical work and we should let the specialists do an effective assessment. We don’t see much use in politicizing the process. We have to be very strict and technical.
Q. What is your opinion on India’s membership in the UNSC and its role as a non-permanent member for 2021-2022?
A. We see India playing a major role and we look forward to seeing more India in the Security Council. So your coming for the next two years is great news. Our teams in New York and in the capitals are already working to make the most of your presence. We believe India belongs to the United Nations Security Council. India should become a permanent member. We said so. We have been insisting on this for years.
We believe that if the Council does not include India as a permanent member, it will not reflect the balance of power in the world today. India is a major and responsible power and should be part of the UN Security Council.
Q. On the Quad and securing the Indo-Pacific, would France like to be part of an enlarged Quad?
A. We have to be very pragmatic. The Indo-Pacific is a priority. The two leaders have been working there for at least four or five years. It’s about values. We want an open and transparent Indo-Pacific. Now what would be the framework. I don’t think anything is exclusive. We have had bilateral cooperation on this front with India for years, military exercises, naval exercises. Unfortunately, we were unable to hold it this year because of the coronavirus. Next year we will resume.
We are expanding our cooperation with like-minded countries. We add trilateral cooperation. We will be announcing new initiatives soon as well. All like-minded countries should unite their efforts for an open and transparent Indo-Pacific.
Q. Would France join the Quad?
A. I don’t think it’s a priority at the moment. Our priority is to achieve concrete results, to produce results, to take ships through the region, common training, information sharing. This is what we are doing now.
We feel like we are part of the Indo-Pacific. We feel that we are India’s neighbor. We have people in the region, we have land in the region.
Q. On economic cooperation, supply chain resilience.
A. The Covid-19 crisis has brought to light some of our addictions. Addiction in itself isn’t a bad term if it’s the interdependence between like-minded countries and then there is a one-way addiction that you don’t like.
The priority is to be more autonomous and to have an industrial base and solid strategic assets. But it all also depends on cooperation with like-minded countries. For example, during this crisis, we saw the reliance on shipping certain key ingredients to make drugs. We should bring assembly lines and production facilities back to our country is a growing awareness.
We will cooperate with countries with which we have common interests and whom we can trust. We need to be more agile, more active and more strategic.
Q. On students wishing to return to study in France.
A. Our answer is very simple, we want more and more. Indian students are welcome. They are very positive, bright and dynamic. We believe this is the best investment we can make for long term benefits. We will do whatever it takes to accommodate them. We are the first country to open our borders to Indian students. Our colleges and universities do everything possible to welcome new students by providing them with safe and good conditions.