President Jacques Chirac of France, defying international opposition to resumption of French nuclear testing in the South Pacific, said Tuesday night that France will resume underground weapons tests in September but will stop them once and for all by the end of next May.
Chirac’s predecessor, Francois Mitterrand, had declared a moratorium on nuclear tests in April 1992.
“Unfortunately, we stopped a little too early,” Chirac said Tuesday night, on the eve of a trip to Washington and New York to confer with President Clinton and Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali of the United Nations.
In a news conference in the Elysee Palace, Chirac described his decision as “irrevocable.” He said the eight planned tests would have “no ecological consequences” and would complete a series intended to calibrate equipment which would allow computer simulations in future tests of the reliability of the French independent nuclear deterrent.
Chirac had been telegraphing his decision for some time, but it could influence the debate in the United States. Some military experts in Washington would like the Clinton administration to make a few more tests before a permanent ban under a treaty that France, the United States and other countries have pledged to sign next year.
“France intends to sign this treaty without reserve in the fall of 1996,” Chirac said Tuesday night.
Adm. Jacques Lanxade, the French armed forces chief of staff, reported to Mitterrand a year ago that the military needs to make a few more tests to ensure the reliability of France’s nuclear deterrent, according to Defense Minister Charles Millon. But Mitterrand declined to lift the moratorium.
Chirac, who succeeded Mitterrand on May 7, denounced Mitterrand’s action in 1992 as “a unilateral disarmament decision.”