Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. 2nd right, and British Foreign Secretary William Hague, left, talk during a July 8 meeting in New Delhi. (Manish Swarup / AFP)
NEW DELHI — British Foreign Secretary William Hague said Tuesday he had raised a $12 billion fighter jet deal being negotiated by French company Dassault with India’s government during talks with his counterpart in New Delhi, suggesting London has not given up all hope on the giant contract.
Hague said he had spoken to Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj about the contract in which the British-backed Eurofighter lost out to the French-made Rafale plane for exclusive negotiations.
Dassault won the right in 2012 to enter exclusive negotiations with India to supply 126 fighters after lodging a lower bid than its rival Eurofighter for a tender with an estimated value of $12 billion.
Those negotiations have since been delayed and must now be taken up by the new government in office since May.
“There is a preferred bidder as you know. Of course we have always had a strong belief in the capabilities of the Eurofighter and its potential,” Hague told reporters, saying the deal was among other defense issues he discussed with Swaraj.
“It is always available to those countries that are able and willing to purchase it,” he said.
British Finance Minister George Osborne, who accompanied Hague, announced he had offered the Indian government a £1 billion ($1.7 billion) credit line which could be used to buy infrastructure-related equipment.
“It’s a very substantial commitment to the new government’s program of infrastructure investment,” Osborne told reporters.
The two ministers were on a two-day trip to Mumbai and Delhi to meet the new government of right-wing Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Indian defense procurement has traditionally been an opaque business, marred by postponements and repeated re-negotiations over cost.
The tender for the 126 multi-role combat aircraft already has a history of delays.
Originally slated for 2005, the procurement process was only cleared in 2007 and flight evaluations of the initial six proposals did not begin until two years later.
And Dassault’s record in exporting the Rafale is a troubled one. It has come close to selling the aircraft to Brazil and Switzerland, but failed to secure a contract.
Analysts have said that as the discussions on the Rafale deal proceed, Eurofighter is likely to remain a conspicuous offstage presence, ready to jump in at the first sign of trouble.