French President Francois Mitterrand said yesterday that France would agree to reconstruct the Iraqi nuclear center destroyed by Israel only if Iraq would first agree to the same strict safeguards against any possible military use that will apply to all future French nuclear sales.
In an interview the French government stipulated not be published until today, the new French president also said that, as a friend of Israel, he regrets that Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin did not place more confidence in him to respect Israel's security interests. He expressed particular bitterness that the first international crisis that he has had to confront as president should come from a country to which he has always been friendly.
The French leader remarked in an aside that he hopes to visit the United States soon, perhaps this autumn as part to the bicentennial celebration of the Battle of Yorktown in which a combined French and American force captured the British Army to put a victorious end to the American Revolution.
Reinforcing what appears to be his intention to maintain smooth relations and open communication with the United States was the fact that his first two presidential interviews have been given to American newspapers.
Under the ground rules of the session conducted yesterday afternoon in his ornate working office in the Elysee Palace, Mitterrand maintained the right to review and correct the original text transcribed overnight by The Washington Post. His fairly extensive revisions softened some points and sharpened others but did not change the original spirit.
The bulk of the interview was devoted exclusively to the French president's first statements on the Israeli air raid two Sundays ago against the French-built nuclear center near Baghdad and its conswequences.
Mitterrand angrily disputed Begin's statements that there was an imminent danger that Iraq was about to make an atomic bomb for use against Israel. The French leader's irate words about Begin contrasted with the friendly feelings, developed in meetings over the past several years before his election, that he expressed for Israeli Labor opposition leader Shimon Peres. The two Israelis are locked in a political struggle over elections that Begin is now heavily favored to win at the end of this month, after a long period when Peres was considered to have a clear lead.
Underlining the extent of his distress over the Israeli military action just a month after his election, Mitterrand said he is now likely to pay his first official visit as president to Saudi Arabia. It had been widely anticipated that the first Mitterrand trip would be to Israel, when he agreed to be the first president of the French Fifth Republic to visit the Jewish state.
"Even though there is a latent state of war between Iraq and Israel," Mitterrand said, "it is not acceptable for a country, however just its cause, to settle its disputes by military intervention, which is patently contrary to international law. I can only express my reprobation for Mr. Begin's initiative.
"Of course, I would consider the matter differently if it were shown that Israel were in real and present danger because of a possible diversion by Iraq of nuclear technology for military purposes. But that has not been demonstrated, to say the least. In any case, Mr Begin could have put his trust in the president of the French Republic, whose feelings on the subject are well known. One of my prime concerns has always been and still is the security of Israel and peace in the Middle East."
Mitterrand recalled that he had protested the contract with Iraq while he was in the opposition and Socialist Party leader."I protested," he recalled, "expressing disquiet that France could contribute to new tensions in that region through the delivery of nuclear reactors."
The French president said that he had been unaware until just yesterday, when he read it in a newspaper, of a secret clause of the Franco-Iraqi nuclear arrangments giving France the right through 1989 to inspect the nuclear installations in Iraq. Mitterrand said that, had he been informed before of that clause, he might have been less severe in his judgments about the previous French government's sale to Iraq.
That clause provided that a joint Franco-Iraqi committee would decide on the experimental programs for the two reactors at the nuclear center and that French technicians would take part in the experiments.Those provisions were made public this week by the head of the French Atomic Energy Commission, Mitchel Pecqueur.
Asked if he would now make public the unpublished accord between the French and Iraqi nuclear agencies, Mitterrand replied, "In this type of thing, the best guarantee is for there to be nothing secret and for public opinion itself to serve as the watchdog." The secrecy surrounding Franco-Iraqi atomic relations had frequently been raised as grounds for suspicion.
Mitterrand indicated that he will demand a thorough study of the real dangers of nuclear proliferation that were involved in the bombed-out Iraqi center. The president was asked to comment on a lengthy report submitted to him before the Israeli raid by three scientists identified with his own Socialist Party, saying that the Iraqi project contained the danger of "a nuclear Sarajevo" -- a reference to the assassination in 1914 of the crown prince of Austria-Hungary that led directly to the outbreak of World War I.
Noting that those views contradict those of the French Atomic Energy Commission, Mitterrand said, "I will neglect nothing to settle that argument."
But he made it clear that, as far as he is concerned, he accepts the French AEC's stand that there was no possibility of imminent physical danger to Israel.
Mitterrand refused to renew his campaign criticisms over the nuclear deal with Iraq made by Valery Giscard d'Estaing, his defeated predecessor as president.
The French president said that the fact that a French technician was killed in the Israeli raid was itself enough to justify French protests, the summoning of the Israeli ambassador to the Foreign Ministry and the French representative's call at the United Nations for a condemnation of the Israeli military action.
France's U.N. ambassador, Jacques Leprette, also asked that Israel be called upon to pay reparations for the destruction for which it had pubicly taken responsibility. While Mitterrand did not refer to that demand, which seems to have particularly enraged the Israeli government, a French Foreign Ministry spokesman recalled that it was not unprecedented. He noted that the United Nations had voted a similar demand after Israeli commandos destroyed a large number of Arab-owned civilian airliners at Beirut airport in late 1967.
Asked if France would insist that any new reactor sold to Iraq be supplied with France's newly developed "caramel" fuel, a technique that is intended to make impossible the extraction of atomic material for bombs, Mitterrand said he could not reply before there has been a thorough scientific study. "But techniques that allow us to have the certainty of nonmilitary use will be favored over others," he said.
No contract will be signed without the assurance that it cannot be diverted to military purposes, he said. "The principle is the same for everyone -- no nuclear reactors whose techniques could allow the conversion from civilian to military purposes; its simple," he said, calling that his standing position had always been that "our technological contributions to Iraq's development be above all suspicion concerning its possible military consequences."
As far what he considers to be France's obligations toward Iraw now, he said, "I will give the answer about that when the request is made [by Iraq], if it is made." Mitterrand indicated there would be no discrimination against Iraq, if it met the same safeguard conditions as any other French customer.
Turning to the question of a homeland for the Palestinians, Mitterrand made it clear that he does not see how they could be prevented from creating a sovereign state of their own, if they wanted it, once they are granted a territory. First, however, he said the Palestine Liberation Organization must give up its demands for the destruction of Isreal.
"Quite naturally, when a people becomes united, the structures of a state will emerge -- at least I assume so. But that could only take place in the framework of a treaty with guarantees that Israel has a right to expect, especially military ones."
Mitterrand spoke of "the pleasure" he had in seeing Israel's Peres "at length" in October at the congress of the Socialist International in Madrid. The french leader recalled having expressed his reservations then about the French contract with Iraq. He said he did not know if Begin was informed of that, but he noted that his position was also on the record before French Jewish organizations and in interviews to their publications. "Mr. Begin could not have been uninformed of my position."
The French president complained that the Israeli leader had not even bothered to offer him any justification for his action, even though he had told the United States why he did it.
Mitterrand recalled Begin's allegation that there was a secret underground bomb-making facility at the Iraqi site and the French reply that there was nothing that was not a mirror image of the similar French atomic complex outside Paris at Saclay on which the Irawi project was modeled. "By committing an error of technical judgment. Mr. Begin simultaneously committed a political error."
Asked if the argument with Begin complicated Mitterrand's search for a new role in the Middle East, the French leader replied:
"Certainly, he did not simplify our task. I have very warm feelings about the historic achievements of Israel and about its culture. I know the magnitude of its sacrifices. I admire the abilities of its people and I want to guarantee its existence, its means of existence. Mr. Begin might have noticed as much.Yet, the first thing he did was to reduce the accumulated capital of confidence. Too bad.
"That will not change my opinion on the fundamentals. I remain true to my options. When we asked for condemnation at the Security Council, . . . we condemn the raid, not Israel. We criticize the action of its leaders. We do not request sanctions against its people. And we remain open for any friendly agreement, any peaceful settlement, for anything that will contribute to good relations with Israel in the context of respect for baisc principles."