Iraq vowed yesterday to press ahead with its nuclear program despite Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin's threat to attack again if Baghdad builds another reactor such as that destroyed in Sunday's raid.
"Iraq's will and determination is capable of establishing new and better nuclear installations," Information Minister Latif Nassim Jassem said in an interview with Al Thawra, the official newspaper of Iraq's ruling Baath Party. The raid, he added, "will not prevent Iraq from continuing with its nuclear program and development plans."
Jassem said the air strike on the nuclear plant showed Israel knows its "real and decisive danger" comes from the forces of Iraq. Israel said Iraq was building a nuclear bomb, a charge denied by Iraq.
Following the publication of the Iraq interview, Israeli officials were quick to renew their now to stop any Arab country from acquiring nuclear weaponry.
"Israel will not be able to tolerate the existence of nuclear weapons in the hands of those who seek its destruction," the Israeli Army chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Rafael Eitan, told an audience of Israeli high school students.
Expressing confidence that Sunday's raid crippled Iraq's nuclear capability for 5 to 10 years, Eitan said, "should the ambition to produce nuclear weapons recur, not necessarily in Iraq, Israel would not be able to tolerate."
The Israeli attack used American-made jets and weapons to knock out the 70-megawatt Osirak reactor 14 miles south of Baghdad. The uncompleted reactor was part of the $260 million complex being built by France. At least one French technician was killed in the attack and was a result Frances ordered home most of the 150 Frenchmen assigned to the project.
One of those technicians arriving in Paris yesterday said any reconstruction of the plant would have to start from scratch.
"The central building is destroyed, the atomic reactor is damaged and the antiatomic shelter has vanished," said Jacques Rimbaud, a French technician employed by one of the main contractors for the French-designed project. "If they want to resume work, they will have to flatten everything and start from scratch."
Rimbaud, who watched the attack from a cafe, said the "precision of the attack was stupefying."
Political parties in France united in condemning what they called violation of international law, but the government said it would not push protests to the point of straining relations.
Many other governments and officials had harsher words.
The Arab League scheduled a foreign ministers' meeting for Thursday in Baghdad to try to agree on a united response to the attack.
Some members of Kuwait's National Assembly called for an oil boycott of the United States for selling Israel the weaponry used in the attack and called for the withdrawal of funds from U.S. banks. The Arab League was expected to discuss a boycott, but Saudi Arabia -- the major oil supplier -- would likely block it.
U.N. Secretary General Kurt Waldheim, rejecting Israeli complaints of bias in his earlier condemnation of the raid, said his duty was to condemn the "clear contravention of international law." He said the U.N. Security Council could not meet on the issue before the weekend, after the Arab League meeting ends.