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India close to signing Rafale jet deal: government official

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NEW DELHI, INDIA: India is close to finalising a long-delayed deal to buy 36 fighter jets from France’s Dassault Aviation, a defence ministry official said on Thursday, with the cabinet set to meet next week to agree a price.

Indian television channel NDTV reported that India had agreed to pay 7.87 billion euros ($8.84 billion) for the jets and would sign the deal on September 23.

There have been several leaks to the Indian press this year that a deal had been reached that proved to be premature, as the two sides haggled over price and other terms of the deal.

A senior defence ministry official in New Delhi, who asked not to be named because he is not authorised to speak with the media, said India’s cabinet committee on security would meet on Wednesday to discuss the deal.

“We expect to sign the deal once the cabinet approves,” the official said.

A spokesman for India’s defence ministry said he was not aware of any specific date for signing but that a cabinet meeting was scheduled for next Wednesday. Dassault’s spokesman declined to comment.

President Francois Hollande and Prime Minister Narendra Modi intervened in the procurement for the Rafale jets in 2015, ordering government-to-government talks after several years of commercial negotiations with Dassault had collapsed.

The leaders agreed to scale back an original plan to buy 126 Rafale planes to just 36 in fly-away condition to meet the Indian Air Force’s urgent needs as it tries to modernise and face an assertive China and long-time foe Pakistan.

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