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France's Finger on Button To Resume Nuclear Testing

Clinton to discuss issue with French leader tomorrow

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WHEN French President Jacques Chirac and President Clinton meet in Washington tomorrow, French nuclear-weapons testing is likely to be near the top of the agenda.

France's defense community is pressuring its new president to resume nuclear testing in its South Pacific territories, which it deems essential to maintaining France's nuclear deterrent.

But he faces strong diplomatic pressures to avoid a move that could jeopardize a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty or rile France's Pacific territories.

"If a decision has been made to resume nuclear testing, Chirac will need a clear understanding with the United States about how to achieve their mutual goal of a comprehensive test ban treaty next year," said a Western diplomat.

Former French President Francois Mitterrand unilaterally suspended all French nuclear testing in April 1992, and two years later called for a $2 billion program of computer simulations to replace underground tests.

During his campaign for the French presidency, Mr. Chirac refused to rule out new underground tests in the Pacific.

"I have yet to meet any competent member of the scientific community who believes that we can yet simulate nuclear testing," he said in a debate with Socialist candidate Lionel Jospin May 3.

"It would be totally irresponsible for a great country like France to exclude herself from the ranks of the nuclear powers in the name of some grand principle and lose her national prestige and security because of it," he added.

Since 1960, when President Charles de Gaulle established a French nuclear force, French presidents of all political persuasions have seen a credible deterrent as key to the nation's great-power status.

France is the world's No. 3 producer of nuclear weapons, after the US and the former Soviet Union.

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