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FRANCE SAYS IT WILL CUT THE SIZE OF ITS N-ARSENAL

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President Jacques Chirac announced Thursday that France would cut the size of its nuclear arsenal and stop producing fissionable material since it had now completed its bitterly disputed series of atomic tests.

Chirac, seeking to recapture the moral high ground after a worldwide outcry over the nuclear tests he ordered in French Polynesia, said they had been technically perfect.As a result, "we are going to be able to reduce our nuclear arsenal," he said in a television interview outlining a far-reaching shake-up of the armed forces.

Chirac said 18 aging land-based nuclear missiles in silos on the southern Plateau d'Albion would be scrapped and France would henceforth rely on four new missile-firing submarines and on aircraft to carry its nuclear deterrent.

In a gesture to reassure Germany, he said he decided after talks with Chancellor Helmut Kohl to dismantle the Hades missiles, mothballed since 1991. The missiles had disturbed Bonn because they could hit only German soil if fired from France.

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, Chirac said, the mobile nuclear missiles no longer served any real purpose "and worried the Germans very much."

Chirac said he had decided to close a plant at Pierrelatte, the only one in France producing plutonium and weapons-grade enriched uranium. "France will no longer produce fissionable material," he said. "Naturally, it has what it needs to make its arms."

Negotiations launched by the United Nations last March aimed at fixing a worldwide cutoff date for the production of fissile materials have made no progress.

Western diplomats say this is mainly because India and Pakistan have tried to link the issue to wider nuclear disarmament in an effort to perpetuate their own programs.

One diplomat said Chirac's decision could irk Western partners because it was a typically French tactic of announcing unilaterally a move that the major nuclear powers had already agreed in principle to make by negotiation.