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Critics Slam Chirac's Nuke Threat

by Staff Writers
Brussels (AFP) Jan 20, 2006
French President Jacques Chirac's threat of a nuclear response to a terror attack drew muted reaction from other governments Friday, but critics blasted it as provocative, with Iran on everyone's minds.

Few leaders appeared willing to comment publicly on Chirac's remarks, which modified France's long-standing nuclear doctrine to specifically warn that its atomic arsenal could be used against states behind terror attacks on France.

Germany was one of the few to go on the record, saying only that it believes the French leader's comments were in line with Paris's existing nuclear policy.

Berlin did not see in Chirac's warning "any reason to believe that France's policy has changed or will change in the future," said government spokesman Thomas Steg in Berlin.

Chirac, speaking Thursday during a visit to a nuclear base in northwestern France, for the first time raised the threat of a nuclear strike on any state that launches "terrorist" attacks against France.

"Leaders of any state that uses terrorist means against us, as well as any that may be envisaging -- in one way or another -- using weapons of mass destruction, must understand that they would be exposing themselves to a firm and appropriate response on our behalf," he said.

"That response could be conventional. It could also be of another nature."

The French foreign ministry underlined Friday that Chirac's remarks were not aimed at any country in particular, when asked about a possible link to Iran, which Western nations suspect of seeking to develop nuclear weapons.

The British Foreign Office declined to comment on Chirac's remarks. A spokesman told AFP that London had a wide range of options to a terrorist attack, but declined to discuss what it would do in a particular case.

London, which was the main European ally of the United States during the Iraq war, was hit by a multiple terrorist attack last July which killed 56 people including four suicide bombers.

In Spain meanwhile -- which was also a key supporter of the Iraq invasion, and which saw 191 people killed in the Madrid bombings of March 2004 -- there was no immediate government response to Chirac's comments.

But Spanish press commentators were less restrained.

"Whether he wanted to or not, Chirac is playing the game of the Bush administration," which would like to make it diplomatically easier to envisage nuclear action, said the daily El Pais.

The French leader's comments "do little for the fight against proliferation" of nuclear arms "at a delicate time faced with the challenge of Iran," it added.

German commentators were equally negative, many voicing concern that Chirac's remarks might provoke Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to become even more hardline.

"The president can't seriously believe that, by eyeing the nuclear stick, he can hide the failure of diplomacy," said the economic daily the Handelsblatt, callling Chirac's remarks "counterproductive."

There was criticism as well in Britain. "We are in the middle of a referral by the (UN atomic watchdog) to the UN for sanctions," said Liberal Democrat lawmaker Colin Breed, referring to the diplomatic pressure on Tehran.

"I don't think this is helpful in terms of that situation," he told the Financial Times.

At NATO headquarters in Brussels, a spokesman declined to comment publicly on the remarks.

But an alliance source pointed out that the remarks appeared broadly in line with NATO's nuclear policy, which stresses its role as a political deterrent.

"The role of nuclear weapons is fundamentally political and not directed towards a specific threat," said the source, requesting anonymity.

"If you look at what President Chirac said I don't think he was mentioning a specific country," he added.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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