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Monday, 11 December, 2000, 06:56 GMT
UK moves to close India jet deal
Hawk aircraft
More than 40 aircraft would be built in India
By South Asia correspondent Mike Wooldridge in Delhi

British Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon is visiting India on a trip which Britain hopes will help finalise a deal worth more than 1bn for the supply of Hawk jet trainer aircraft.

Negotiations began 14 years ago and the UK Government says it hopes the contract will be signed by early next year.

The number of aircraft being talked about at the moment is 66, just over 20 of them to be bought off the shelf from British Aerospace and the rest manufactured under licence at a factory in Bangalore that Mr Hoon will be visiting on Tuesday.

Price negotiations

The Hawk has beaten off competition from French and Russian aircraft, but the price is apparently still being negotiated.

There have also been concerns about components in the Hawk that could fall foul of American sanctions imposed after India's nuclear tests in 1998.

British officials appear to be confident that this potential problem can be resolved.

Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon
Mr Hoon may also want to discuss British arms dealer Peter Bleach
This is the first visit by a British defence secretary in more than a decade.

It marks another significant stage in the rebuilding of ties that were adversely affected by the nuclear tests, particularly in the field of defence, though the UK says disagreement continues over nuclear policy and it is pressing both India and Pakistan to sign and ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

On the political front, the case of Peter Bleach, the British arms dealer serving a life sentence in India, may be raised again during talks between Mr Hoon and India's Foreign Minister, Jaswant Singh.

Last week UK Foreign Secretary Robin Cook made a formal appeal for Mr Bleach's release on the grounds that five Russians and Latvians who were sentenced with him have already been granted clemency.

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See also:

08 Dec 00 | South Asia
Plea to India over jailed Briton
14 Jun 00 | South Asia
India seeks stronger UK defence ties
13 Jun 00 | South Asia
Indian defence minister in Britain
29 Feb 00 | South Asia
India's growing defence costs
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