French president Jacques Chirac said Thursday that France could retaliate with nuclear weapons against states that launch terrorist attacks against it. Mr. Chirac's threat is considered a departure in terms of French defense policy.
President Chirac's warning came during a visit to a French nuclear submarine base in Brittany. Eighty five-percent of France's nuclear warheads are carried on submarines.
The French president said nuclear dissuasion remained the fundamental guarantee of national security. The president said France is in the position to inflict all kinds of damage to a major power. Confronted with a regional power, he said, the choice is not inaction, but rather flexibility and reactivity. And French forces are capable of responding directly to such a power.
Mr. Chirac said that leaders of any state that uses terrorist means against France must understand they risk what he called a firm and appropriate response for his country. That could come via conventional weapons, he said, but also by what he describe as another nature, that is nuclear weapons.
The president's remarks were part of a broader speech that touched on Europe's nuclear defense. He did not mention any country or terrorist group.
His speech comes as Europe and the United States are at a standoff with Iran over Tehran's nuclear program. But the Associated Press news agency cited French officials as saying the president did not have Iran or any specific country in mind when he made his remarks.
Some analysts view Mr. Chirac's comments as generally responding to the question of why France still needs a nuclear weapons program more than a decade after the end of the Cold War. The country spends more than $3.5 billion a year on its nuclear program.
Initial reactions to his speech were mixed. The opposition Communist party criticized it as irresponsible. But a leftist politician, Socialist lawmaker Laurent Fabius, said he generally supported Mr. Chirac's speech.
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