NEW DELHI (AP) — The French president arrived Thursday in India where he met with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and was set to be the chief guest at the country’s national day celebrations.

Emmanuel Macron began his visit with some sightseeing in the western city of Jaipur, a popular tourist destination, where he visited a 17th-century fort and an 18th-century observatory.

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Modi greeted him at the observatory and the two stood in an open jeep as they were driven for about 1.5 kilometers (one mile). Large crowds lining the streets welcomed them with a showering of rose and marigold petals.

Large cutouts of their images with the inscription “India-France Friendship” dotted the route. Macron waved at the crowd.

Macron Modi

French President Emmanuel Macron will be the guest of honor at India’s Republic Day parade.

“His presence not only strengthens the ties between our nations but also adds a significant chapter to our shared history of friendship and collaboration,” Modi said on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Macron and Modi later held a meeting at a hotel in Jaipur before flying to New Delhi. There was no immediate official statement about the outcome of the meeting, but they were expected to discuss major global challenges including economic, defense, space and cyber security, as well as France’s role in the Indo-Pacific region.

France is looking to strengthen cooperation with India in areas ranging from climate to military sales, despite frictions over the two countries’ attitudes toward Russia’s war on Ukraine.

“Macron is committed to the pursuit of a closer dialogue with India, a key player on the international scene from a demographic point of view, as well as economic, scientific and diplomatic,” his office said in a statement on Wednesday.

France has reiterated its commitment to a defense relationship with India, including sharing technology. The two countries are working on co-development and co-production defense projects, the Indian External Affairs Ministry said.

The two leaders were expected to continue discussions on India’s plans to purchase 26 French Rafale fighter aircraft for its navy, approved by India’s Defense Acquisition Council last year. The council also approved a plan to purchase three Scorpene submarines, jointly developed by France and Spain.

France already has delivered 36 Rafale fighter aircraft ordered by the Indian Air Force.

Three ministers are traveling with the President: Sébastien Lecornu, Minister of the Armed Forces; Stéphane Sejourne, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs; and Rachida Dati, Minister of Culture.

On Friday, Macron will be the guest of honor at India’s Republic Day parade in New Delhi celebrating the anniversary of the adoption of the country’s constitution in 1950, nearly three years after it won independence from British colonial rule.

Modi was a guest of honor at Bastille Day parade in Paris in July last year, where Macron called India a key player “in our future.”

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Macron visited India in November for the Group of 20 summit of industrialized and developing nations.

Indian exports to France totaled $3.06 billion and imports from France $2.36 billion in the past year, according to India’s External Affairs Ministry.

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