Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

French Leader Calmly Affirms Controversial Nuclear Policy

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

French Leader Calmly Affirms Controversial Nuclear Policy

Article excerpt

FRANCE'S DEFIANT DECISION to resume nuclear testing drew outrage from every corner of the world Wednesday, but the month-old government serenely insisted that the nation's "vital interests" override diplomatic niceties.

South Pacific nations near the Polynesian atoll testing site accused France of "flagrant disregard." New Zealand and Australia said they would freeze military relations. Russia and the United States also were critical.

But President Jacques Chirac flew to Washington for his first meeting with President Bill Clinton, enjoying solid backing from his conservative government. Politicians and commentators said there was no doubt he deliberately timed the announcement as a show of independence and fortitude on the eve of his meeting with Clinton and the Group of Seven economic summit meeting starting today in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

"It's clear Chirac wanted to make a thunderous arrival on the international stage," said Jean-Michel Boucheron, a Socialist Party defense expert. "I would have preferred his first message to the world to be a message of peace, rather than a slap in the face to 178 countries that signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty."

Chirac's premier, Alain Juppe, went before the National Assembly to defend the decision.

"France's vital interests prevail over all other considerations, even of diplomatic nature," Juppe said. "France will maintain a credible and sufficient deterrent force."

Chirac said Tuesday at his first news conference since taking office May 17 that France would abandon its 1992 freeze on nuclear testing and conduct eight more tests between September and May. He promised France would halt all tests by May 1996 and sign a treaty banning such testing.

Chirac's predecessor, Socialist Francois Mitterrand, suspended France's testing program in 1992, prompting Russia, the United States and Britain to follow. After that, China was the only nuclear power to continue experimental nuclear blasts. …

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