France will not give up its nuclear weapons, because doing so would 'jeopardize' its security, President Nicolas Sarkozy said on Monday as global leaders gathered for a summit on nuclear security.
"I cannot jeopardize the security and safety of my country," Sarkozy told CBS News hours before US President Barack Obama opened the landmark summit of 47 nations in Washington.
The French leader said he could not abandon his nation's nuclear weapons program "on a unilateral basis, in a world as dangerous as the one in which we live today."
He also hinted that countries like the United States and Russia should take the lead in whittling down their own huge nuclear stockpiles, rather than expecting France, which has a much smaller number of atomic weapons, to disarm. "You have to realize, we're a country of 65 million inhabitants," he said.
"We have fewer conventional weapons than the US, than Russia, than China, for that matter.
"I have inherited the legacy of the efforts made by my predecessors to build up France as a nuclear power. And I could not give up nuclear weapons if I wasn't sure the world was a stable and safe place."
Obama's two-day summit will focus on obtaining a broad international commitment to keep loose fissile material as secure as possible, to prevent it from getting into the hands of extremists or rogue states.
Sarkozy also signaled his support for new UN sanctions against Iran, warning that Tehran's potential pursuit of a nuclear weapon is "dangerous and unacceptable."
"Patience has its limits and we have come to a time now where we need to vote sanctions..." he told CBS. But he stressed that any new sanctions against Tehran must not be so watered down by the UN Security Council that they end up having no impact on the leadership of the Islamic republic.
"The best solution is the unity of the Security Council," Sarkozy said. "But not at any price. Not at the price of a resolution that is so toothless that it would achieve nothing."
Sarkozy later attended a dinner with the other leaders, ahead of closed-door meetings on Tuesday.