France seeks nuclear link with UK

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BRITAIN and France should co-ordinate their nuclear arms policies as a step towards creating a European deterrent, Pierre Beregovoy the French Prime Minister, said yesterday.

Mr Beregovoy, speaking at a strategy conference organised by the French Defence Ministry, said the co-ordination would be logical within the process of creating a common European defence and security policy.

However, a Nato spokesman in Brussels cautioned that any such moves should be conducted within the structure of the North Atlantic alliance.

Mr Beregovoy was developing a theme first raised publicly by Jacques Delors, President of the European Commission, who said in January that French nuclear forces - he did not mention Britain's - should be deployed to defend all European Community countries if the Community developed its own defence policy.

A few days later, President Francois Mitterrand said that a common nuclear arms policy would soon become one of the most important issues facing Europe.

The crucial difference between the British and French forces is that British nuclear arms are committed to Nato whereas France's are not.

Malcolm Rifkind, the Secretary of State for Defence, addressing the same conference on Wednesday, called for Britain and France to co-operate closely on nuclear defence, but emphasised the British view that this should be done under Nato auspices.

Mr Beregovoy said French and German efforts to set up a joint European Corps, which they have said is open to other countries, were proving slow and difficult.

'The adoption of a European deterrence doctrine will need even more time and work because the question is so complex and sensitive,' he said.

'A preliminary step would no doubt be to bring together the views of the Community's two nuclear powers, Britain and France.'

The creation of the European Corps grated with both Britain and the United States. Britain supports a continued American involvement in European defence, while France is anxious for a stronger 'European pillar' in Nato and a more independent policy, centred on EC countries through the Western European Union.

In Brussels, a Nato spokesman, quoted by Reuters, said yesterday: 'We support discussion and co-operation between the European nuclear powers as a contribution to collective security within the framework of the Atlantic alliance.'

Mr Beregovoy said that France, which withdrew from Nato's integrated military command structure under President Charles de Gaulle but has played a full part in the alliance politically, remained 'totally faithful' to Nato.

He said Nato should adapt itself to 'the new strategic situation'. Earlier this year, France decided not to deploy new nuclear missiles, putting them instead into storage, because it said the threat from the former Soviet Union no longer existed.

Earlier this week, Pierre Joxe, the French Defence Minister, said France should move closer to the Nato military structure and attend its meetings. This echoed remarks that he first made to a conference of military officers last November.

However, while France shies away from becoming a full member of the integrated command, other European defence sources have said that such statements have little substantial meaning and may just be intended to assuage fears in Washington about French intentions.

(Photograph omitted)