Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman with French Defence Minister Florence Parly 

Sitharaman was scheduled to visit Paris on the invitation of her counterpart who has come on a bilateral meeting in October 2017

NEW DELHI: Defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman has deferred a visit to France, calling off a planned bilateral meeting at a late hour. Sitharaman was to travel to Paris for a meeting with her counterpart Florence Parly on September 17, but the visit was called off last week due to `scheduling issues’, people familiar with the development said.

When contacted, the defence ministry confirmed that the minister will not be travelling to Paris this month. Sources said efforts are on to find new suitable dates for a visit in October but this has not yet been finalised.

Sitharaman will, however, travel to Egypt on September 20, and could also travel to the US later this year to take forward discussions from the `2+2’ summit held on Friday.

Sitharaman has been central to the government’s defence on Rafale deal, even taking on Congress President Rahul Gandhi during a Parliament debate.

At least two senior military teams will visit France in the coming weeks, sources said.

One of the teams, to be led by the deputy chief of air staff, will inspect the production line of the Rafale fighter jets. The senior officer is also scheduled to fly the fighter jet during the visit, from the front cockpit.

Another team, led by a senior naval officer, will review the ongoing production and delivery of the Scorpene submarines that are being rolled out from Mumbai-based Mazagon Dock Shipbuilders Limited (MDL).

Sitharaman was scheduled to visit Paris on the invitation of her counterpart who has come on a bilateral meeting in October 2017. Parly, who had a hectic tour including meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, visited MDL to review the progress of the submarines.

The French minister had also travelled to Nagpur for the foundation stone-laying ceremony of Dassault Reliance Aerospace Limited (DRAL) by its joint promoters, Anil Ambani of the Reliance Group, and Eric Trappier, who leads Dassault Aviation.

India has a wide ranging defence relationship with France, beyond weapons purchases that includes the Rafale and Mirage fighter jets, submarines and a range of missile systems for the three forces.

In the recent past, the navies of the two nations have carried out complex war games in the Western Indian Ocean and have also signed a pact to share military logistics.

The French Air Force — which is conducting its Mission PEGASE in the Asia-Pacific region by projecting a detachment of three Rafale combat jets, one Atlas A-400M military transport aircraft and other support aircraft — had a three-day stopover at Gwalior and Agra air bases this week, that included joint flights and exchanges between the two air forces.