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Cameron may push for Eurofighter Typhoon in India visit

New Delhi, Feb 17 (IANS) Britain is still likely to push for the Eurofighter Typhoon during Prime Minister David Cameron's India visit, less than a week after French President Francois Hollande left New Delhi without any announcement over the fate of the $10 billion contract for Rafale fighter jets.

"The issue of Eurofighter Typhoon jets may come up... But I don't think it will be top on the agenda," a British diplomatic source told IANS Sunday.

Cameron arrives in New Delhi Monday on a three-day visit, heading the "biggest ever" trade delegation.

The Eurofighter Typhoon lost out to Rafale, manufactured by France's Dassault Aviation, in the contract for 126 medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) for the Indian Air Force. The Typhoon is manufactured by a consortium of which Britain's BAE Systems is a part.

The finer points of India's deal for Rafale with France are still under negotiation and both countries have said the "discussions are progressing well" after Hollande's meeting with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Feb 14.

Britain had voiced its disappointment after India last year announced it had chosen the Rafale, nudging out the Typhoon. Cameron told the British parliament last February that he would do everything to persuade India to go for the Typhoon.

With India set to raise with Britain the issue of the AgustaWestland VVIP choppers following bribery issues, the sources said that Britain has "very low tolerance for bribery and corruption" and assured it will work with India and Italy on the issue.

External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid has said that India might raise the issue during the visit of Cameron. India has put on hold the $750 million deal with Britain-based AgustaWestland, a subsidiary of Italian company Finmeccanica, and begun the process of cancelling the deal following allegations of kickbacks.

"The Indian foreign minister has said India might take up the issue... There are issues of equity involved as it is manufactured in a UK facility," the source said.

"We have very tough laws against corruption and very low tolerance for bribery and corruption," the British diplomat said, adding that the three could work together to resolve the issue.

The AgustaWestland issue "is not on the original structured agenda. However, the two prime ministers can discuss any issue of importance", an Indian official told IANS.

"Security policy issues and Afghanistan" would also figure in the talks between Manmohan Singh and Cameron on Tuesday in New Delhi, the diplomatic source said.

Earlier this month, Cameron hosted talks between Afghanistan and Pakistan in London aimed at working towards a peace deal for Afghanistan.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari attended the talks, after which in a joint statement issued by Cameron's office they "committed themselves to take all necessary measures to achieve the goal of a peace settlement over the next six months".

India was briefed on the talks both by Pakistan and Afghanistan. Britain too spoke with India and "clarified that the talks were aimed at speeding up the reconciliation process and for cooperation" between Islamabad and Kabul, an Indian source said.

India was "trying to see what direction the talks were taking", a diplomatic source said, adding that Britain was also "pushing for a strategic pact between Pakistan and Afghanistan... we're waiting to see if it will happen."

Indo Asian News Service

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