PTI, Negotiations with Russia on the acquisition of aircraft carrier Gorshkov are on the verge of completion and a final decision might be taken during the visit of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to that country next month, Union Defence Minister George Fernandes said on Tuesday.

“The price negotiations took a lot of time, but all negotiations and the paperwork being done here are on the verge of completion …some technicalities had arisen and it will now be possible to resolve them,” Fernandes told reporters after inaugurating the two-day Commanders' Conference of the Coast Guards here.

He said if price negotiations and other details are worked out earlier, a decision could be taken during the Prime Minister's Russia visit, though the finalisation of the deal was not connected with it and there was no time-frame fixed.

Vajpayee's visit is scheduled to start on November 11, while Russian Defence Minister Sergey Ivanov will be here next month before the Prime Minister leaves for Moscow. The Russian side has recently said they hoped to finalise the Gorshkov deal within this year.

Fernandes said the Coast Guards would place orders for 16 modern ships before the end of the current fiscal.

Asked about the Scorpion submarine deal with France, he said, “It is yet to be finalised”.

Asked whether the government had “in principle” agreed to holding joint Indo-Israeli military exercises, Fernandes replied in the affirmative.

On a similar initiative with China, he said the bilateral relations had been improving gradually and such joint exercises could not be ruled out any longer.

To a question about Pakistan holding military exercises close to the Indo-Pak border, the Defence Minister said, “We are also doing so. It is a routine thing for the armed forces positioned along the border”.

On cross-border infiltration in Jammu and Kashmir, he said if there was a week which was quieter than the previous one, “on the following week, you may have the terrorists coming in as if they have to make up for the lost time. There is no last word on the level of infiltration”.

While the situation in the state was gradually moving towards normal, “we have to be ready for any situation”, he said.

Referring to the challenges faced by Coast Guards, Fernandes said the terrorists perceive smuggling of narcotics or arms much easier through the sea route than by air. “They think it is easier to target the sea-lanes and assets”.

But during exigencies like 'Operation Parakram', Coast Guards were immediately brought under the command of the Indian Navy and made a part of the naval forces, he said adding that the responsibilities of this force guarding the Indian waters has been growing very fast.