Chirac Dismisses Iran Nuclear Threat, Then Retracts

Associated Press
Thursday, February 1, 2007; 2:04 AM

PARIS -- French President Jacques Chirac said in an interview with three newspapers that Iran's possession of a nuclear bomb wouldn't be "very dangerous" and that if it used the weapon on Israel, Tehran would be immediately "razed."

Chirac -- who made the comments during a Monday interview with The New York Times, The International Herald Tribune and Le Nouvel Observateur, a weekly magazine -- called reporters back the next day to try to have his quotes retracted.

In an article posted on its Web site Wednesday night, the New York Times said the Monday interview was taped recorded and on the record.

Chirac's initial remarks would mark a big departure from France's official policy of deterrence and work in preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

"I should rather have paid attention to what I was saying and understood that perhaps I was on the record," Chirac said in the second interview on Tuesday, according to the New York Times.

On Monday, Chirac said of Iran and its nuclear program: "I would say that what is dangerous about this situation is not the fact of having a nuclear bomb. Having one or perhaps a second bomb a little later, well, that's not very dangerous."

Instead, Chirac said, the danger lies in the chances of proliferation or an arms race in the Middle East should Iran build a nuclear bomb. Possessing the weapon would be useless for Iran -- whose leader has called for Israel to be "wiped off the map" -- as using it would mean an instant counterattack.

"Where will it drop it, this bomb? On Israel?" Chirac asked. "It would not have gone 200 meters into the atmosphere before Tehran would be razed."

The remarks appear in stark contrast to American policy, which does not accept a nuclear-armed Iran.

In the second interview with the same newspapers, Chirac retracted his comment about Tehran being razed. "I retract it, of course, when I said, 'One is going to raze Tehran,'" he said.

Chirac also said other countries would stop any bomb launched by Iran from reaching its target.

"It is obvious that this bomb, at the moment it was launched, obviously would be destroyed immediately," he said. "We have the means -- several countries have the means to destroy a bomb."

Regarding his comments that Israel could be a target of an Iranian weapon and that Israel would retaliate, Chirac said: "I don't think I spoke about Israel yesterday. Maybe I did so but I don't think so. I have no recollection of that."

AP-ES-02-01-07 0020EST

© 2007 The Associated Press