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Dassault Rafale deal stalled again by Indian negotiator's death

media A Rafale at Istres in the south of France. AFP

French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian remained upbeat Thursday on prospects for French engineer Dassault's planned sale of 126 Rafale fighter jets to India, despite the death of Delhi's chief negotiator this week. Talks on the sale have dragged on for months and could be threatened by a change of government after next May's general election.

Indian Defence Ministry Arun Kumar Bal suffered a fatal heart attack on Wednesday, a development that is likely to stall already slow-moving negotiations for several weeks.

But Le Drian on Thursday said he did not think it would have a negative effect on the process, although a change of government in next year's Indian election could mean a change in buying policy.

India provisionally awarded Dassault the contract, estimated to be worth 11-16 billion euros, last year but negotiations have run into difficulties, despite both Le Drian and President François Hollande raising the question during visits to India this year.

Dassault has tried to back out of some of the terms of the contract, according to Indian military analyst Bharat Karnad.

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He believes that Dassault made a bad choice in deciding to work with Reliance Aerospace, which he says has no experience in naval aviation, but the French company has also refused to guarantee the quality of work done by Indian companies, one of the conditions of the call for tender.

Reminding reporters that this is "a very big order", Le Drian said that it is "logical that there should be in-depth technical and financial discussions" and insisting that he remained optimistic.

Dassault's New Delhi representatives declined to comment on the latest developments when contacted by RFI.

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