L'ile-Longue, France President Jacques Chirac warned Thursday that France could respond with nuclear weapons to a state-sponsored terrorist attack, broadening the terms of his country's deterrence in the face of emerging threats.
The warning came as France worked with other Western nations to ensure that Iran does not become a nuclear power. But officials and experts said Chirac's comments were not aimed specifically at Tehran.
"Nuclear deterrence : is not aimed at dissuading fanatic terrorists," Chirac said in a speech at the L'Ile-Longue nuclear submarine base in the western region of Brittany.
"Leaders of states who would use terrorist means against us, just like anyone who would envisage using, in one way or another, arms of mass destruction, must understand that they would expose themselves to a firm and fitting response from us," he said. "This response could be conventional. It could also be of another nature."
France's nuclear arsenal is considered a purely deterrent force to protect the nation's vital interests and is not intended for regular combat.
But Chirac, who has the power to decide on deploying nuclear weapons, said there should be no doubt "about our will and our capacity to use nuclear arms" if the country's vital interests are threatened.
Chirac said nuclear warheads had been reduced on some missiles on France's four nuclear-armed submarines with the aim of targeting specific power centers rather than risking wholesale destruction in an enemy country.