Panaji: French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian is expected to lay the groundwork for the negotiations for the formal purchase of Rafale fighter jets from French firm Dassault during his India visit next week.
But the signing of a formal contract will not happen just yet, French Ambassador Francois Richier said on Saturday.
Richier, who was in Goa to attend a function aboard French nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, which is off Goa conducting a joint naval exercise with the Indian Navy.
He also said the negotiation and due diligence exercise between India and France during the tendering process for procurement of the Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA), would help nail the deal sooner rather than later.
"He (Drian) will come to India during next week. We are still finalising the dates and timing," Richier said.
"The visit will not be (about) signing the contract, because it is just an agreement which is two weeks old, but to set up the negotiation... so it will be a very important visit," he added.
The defence minister is currently in Qatar, which two days ago agreed to buy 24 Rafale fighter jets plus an option to buy 12 more for $ 7 billion.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his visit to France last month had signed an agreement to buy 36 Rafale fighter jets for $6 billion.
Richier said that combat planes manufactured by the French firm Dassault had been a part of the Indian Air Force for decades going back to 1953, when the company first sold 'Hurricanes' to the Indian Air Force, a plane which was later used by the Indian military to liberate Goa from Portuguese colonial yoke.
The ambassador also backed Rafale as the apt combat plane especially in regions of strategic importance and countries which have a "real security challenge", something which the deals signed by Qatar, India and Egypt have underscored.
"It is also a recognition that the Rafale is the pertinent plane for a country which has a real security challenge. And the fact that it was recently purchased by Egypt or Qatar, which are countries in areas which present strategic challenges," Richier said.
Asked how soon would the Rafale deal be wrapped up, the ambassador cautiously said that it was always better to be prudent when one speaks about setting timelines.
But he also expressed hope because of the negotiations done by both sides during the tendering process referred to as the MMRCA competition.
"Thanks to the negotiation on MMRCA, we have worked out a lot of details on the specifics of technology. All this is there. All that work is not lost. It will serve as a basis for negotiation of this deal," Richier said.