President Jacques Chirac
French Leader Backtracks on
"Nuclear-armed Iran would be unacceptable. . ."
JAMEY KEATEN / AP 1feb2007
Mindfully.org note: It's no more acceptable to us that the US or France, or any other nation be nuclear-armed. What country is the MOST dangerous with regards to the use of nuclear arms? The US is the self-ordained ruler of nuclear technology, continually condemning other countries for using nuclear technologies. Yet the US was the first to drop bombs on innocent civilians. It was also second to do so. In Iraq, it continues to drop bombs that radiate in the form of DU. While it doesn't explode like an A-bomb, it spreads its nuclear radiation in the form of extremely fine particles — smaller than a human blood cell and smaller than a HEPA filter can remove from the air. The particles are so small that gravity does not pull them down and out of the atmosphere, where they travel around the globe in a weeks time. No, there is nobody and no country that can be trusted to be nuclear-armed. It is incredible that the US or France could make any statement whatsoever regarding the nuclear-arming of Iran.
President Jacques Chirac backtracked Thursday and said a nuclear-armed Iran would be unacceptable, reversing earlier comments that Tehran's possession of a nuclear bomb would not be "very dangerous."
"France, along with the international community, cannot accept the prospect of an Iran equipped with a nuclear weapon," Chirac's office said in a statement seeking to limit fallout from the French leader's remarks to the International Herald Tribune and two other publications.
"The Iranian nuclear program is opaque and therefore dangerous for the region," the statement added. It urged Tehran to suspend uranium enrichment, and said the United Nations would respond to such a move by suspending sanctions and that negotiations with Tehran would resume.
The statement followed a remarkable morning of damage-control by Chirac's office, which took the unusual step of asking reporters to come over in person for a clarification about his comments that Iran's possession of a nuclear weapon would not be "very dangerous" and that if used on Israel, Tehran would be immediately "razed."
Chirac, who made the comments during a Monday interview, called reporters back the next day to try to have his quotes retracted.
The publications said the interview was tape-recorded and on the record.
Chirac's initial remarks — which would have marked a major departure from France's official policy of working to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons — prompted sharp criticism and protest from experts and the opposition Socialist Party. His office said that foreign governments were also asking for an official clarification.
"I should rather have paid attention to what I was saying and understood that perhaps I was on the record," Chirac said in the second interview on Tuesday, according to transcripts that the three publications posted on their Web sites.
On Monday, Chirac said of Iran and its nuclear program: "I would say that what is dangerous about this situation is not the fact of having a nuclear bomb. Having one or perhaps a second bomb a little later, well, that's not very dangerous."
Instead, Chirac said, the danger lies in the chances of proliferation or an arms race in the Middle East should Iran build a nuclear bomb. Possessing the weapon would be useless for Iran — whose leader has called for Israel to be "wiped off the map" — as using it would mean an instant counterattack, he said.
"Where will it drop it, this bomb? On Israel?" Chirac asked. "It would not have gone 200 meters into the atmosphere before Tehran would be razed."
A French official, who briefed reporters on condition that he not be identified, confirmed that Chirac had later retracted his original comments on Iran, and said the president had been speaking in a "strategic" or hypothetical way about nuclear deterrence involving Iran — not about "diplomacy."
The official said Chirac had spoken hastily and that his reasoning "was missing a few steps," prompting the president to call back the reporters. He said Chirac's idea was to point out how unthinkable it would be that Iran could even consider using a nuclear weapon.
In the second interview with the same publications, Chirac retracted his comment about Tehran being razed. "I retract it, of course, when I said, 'One is going to raze Tehran,'" he said.
Chirac also said other countries would stop any bomb launched by Iran from reaching its target.
"It is obvious that this bomb, at the moment it was launched, obviously would be destroyed immediately," he said. "We have the means — several countries have the means to destroy a bomb."
Regarding his comments that Israel could be a target of an Iranian weapon and that Israel would retaliate, Chirac said: "I don't think I spoke about Israel yesterday. Maybe I did so but I don't think so. I have no recollection of that."
The U.N. Security Council recently imposed limited sanctions — which Chirac supported — to punish Iran for defying a resolution demanding that it suspend uranium enrichment, a process that can produce fissile material to fuel nuclear reactors or, at purer concentrations, the core of nuclear weapons.
The U.S. and its allies accuse Iran of secretly trying to develop nuclear weapons, an allegation Tehran denies, insisting it only wants to produce energy. Bush administration officials have said diplomacy was the focus of their policy on Iran but have never ruled out attacks on Iran.
Chirac, 74, is not expected to seek a third term in the two-round presidential election in April and May.
The two leading candidates to succeed Chirac — Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy and Socialist Segolene Royal — have both said that Iran must not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons.
Sarkozy has called the prospect of an Iranian bomb "terrifying." His spokeswoman, Rachida Dati, on Thursday reacted to Chirac's comments by saying that Sarkozy has "always been clear" in his opposition to a nuclear-armed Iran.
Royal has said that Tehran should not even have access to civilian nuclear power. That stance has elicited criticism since under the terms of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, Iran is allowed to have a civilian nuclear program.
Royal's spokesman, former Culture Minister Jack Lang, said that Chirac had committed an "unforgivable" error.