Sarkozy launches submarine but wants nuclear ban

John Lichfield
Saturday 22 March 2008 01:00

President Nicolas Sarkozy called for new limits on nuclear weapons yesterday after accepting an advanced nuclear submarine called Le Terrible into the French navy.

In a speech in Cherbourg, Normandy, President Sarkozy said that France's nuclear deterrent, or Force de Frappe, was justified by new strategic threats to Europe, including from Iran. But he called for a global ban on short and medium-range, ground-to-ground, nuclear missiles and a ban on the manufacture of fissile material for nuclear weapons.

In a breach with past French policies of defence secrecy, M. Sarkozy revealed that reductions and modernisations in the French arsenal would cut its stock of nuclear warheads in the near future to "less than 300". Recent independent estimates have put the French warhead arsenal at 348.

In his first speech on nuclear weapons policy since he became President 10 months ago, M. Sarkozy offered "open- ended talks" with other EU countries on the role of the French deterrent. The Force de Frappe was – de facto – "a key element in the security" of all countries in the EU, he said. Iran's nuclear programme had called European security "into question".

Le Terrible is the fourth and last of a new class of nuclear submarines. The vessels are the first in the French arsenal capable of delivering a nuclear warhead to any part of the globe.

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