All eyes on major jet deal as India's Modi meets Hollande

All eyes on major jet deal as India's Modi meets Hollande
French President Francois Hollande attends a meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Elysee Palace in Paris

PARIS - India's prime minister kicked off Friday talks in Paris with the French president with all eyes on a potential multi-billion-euro fighter jet deal hailed as the "contract of the century."

Once persona non grata in the European Union, Narendra Modi was welcomed with open arms by President Francois Hollande as he aims to woo investors to his fast-growing economy on the first leg of his maiden trip to the continent.

Ahead of the visit, fevered speculation has centred on whether Modi and Hollande will achieve a breakthrough in long-blocked talks over 126 French Rafale fighter jets.

The deal, dubbed the "contract of the century" in the French media, could be worth billions, but has been bogged down over cost and New Delhi's insistence on assembling a portion of the high-tech planes in India.

Hollande said ahead of his meeting with Modi at his Elysee Palace presidential office - where the two shook hands before stepping inside for talks - that he wanted to make "progress" on the thorny, long-standing issue.

Rafale talks 'ongoing' Friday

In a bid to get things moving, New Delhi is considering buying a first tranche of a smaller number of planes to replace its creaking air force fleet, Indian media reported.

The Hindustan Times said the government was "seriously considering (the) strategic purchase of up to 40 Rafales for the Indian Air Force" due to "operational necessity", with further purchases later.

It quoted an unnamed source as saying a new deal could be worked out this year, with the exact number of planes depending on the final price.

A French government source, who did not wish to be named, confirmed that talks were "ongoing" on Friday over the jets, but declined to give further details.

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