The CAG report tabled in Parliament Wednesday had flagged the 'drawbacks' of a Letter of Comfort compared to a sovereign guarantee

by Snehesh Alex Philip

New Delhi: France Thursday weighed in on the ‘Letter of Comfort’ controversy over the Rafale deal, saying there was “nothing stronger” than the assurance given by Paris as part of the government-to-government agreement signed for 36 fighter jets.

French ambassador to India Alexandre Ziegler said that when a government signs a deal, it takes full responsibility for the price and supply.

“There is nothing stronger in our system that protects the deal,” Ziegler said, speaking to a select group of journalists in the national capital.

He was responding to questions on whether France’s Letter of Comfort was enough as a guarantee against any possible breach by Rafale manufacturer Dassault Aviation in the over €7 billion deal.

“In our system, when a government signs a deal under its name, we are responsible as a government,” he added.

Asked if there was any pressure from the Indian government for selecting Reliance Defence as an offsets partner for Dassault Aviation as part of the deal, he said there was none, reiterating Paris’ long-held argument that offsets partners are decided by private companies and not the government.

Former French President Francois Hollande, whose administration sealed the deal with India, was quoted as saying in a media report last year that it was the Indian government that had proposed Reliance Defence’s selection as an offsets partner. Both Dassault and France had denied the allegation.

‘Drawbacks of Letter of Comfort’

The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), in its report on the Rafale deal that was tabled in Parliament Wednesday, had sought to highlight the drawbacks of India’s decision to settle for a ‘Letter of Comfort’ rather than a sovereign guarantee from the French government.

The Rafale purchase has been at the centre of a raging political row, with the Congress alleging irregularities in the deal signed by the Narendra Modi government in 2016. Its prime accusation is that the Narendra Modi government gave undue benefit to the Anil Amabni-led Reliance Defence, which Dassault chose as one of its mandated offsets partners for the deal.

The government has countered this argument by saying that it has bought 36 Rafale jets under better terms and pricing than what was being negotiated by the Congress-led UPA government.