L'ILE-LONGUE, France -- President Jacques Chirac warned yesterday that France could respond with nuclear weapons against any state that carried out a terrorist attack or used weapons of mass destruction against his country.
The warning was issued as France worked with other Western nations to ensure that Iran does not become a nuclear power. But officials and specialists said Chirac's comments were not aimed specifically at Tehran.
''Nuclear deterrence . . . is not aimed at dissuading fanatic terrorists," Chirac said in a speech delivered at the L'Ile-Longue nuclear submarine base in the western region of Brittany.
''Leaders of states who would use terrorist means against us, just like anyone who would envisage using, in one way or another, arms of mass destruction, must understand that they would expose themselves to a firm and fitting response from us," he said. ''This response could be conventional. It could also be of another nature."
France's nuclear arsenal is considered a purely deterrent force to protect the nation's vital interests and is not intended for regular combat.
But Chirac, who has the power to decide on deploying nuclear weapons, said there should be no doubt ''about our will and our capacity to use nuclear arms" if the country's vital interests are threatened.
He addressed new threats in the post-Cold War world. While traditional enemies are now allies of the West, he voiced France's concerns about volatile new alliances emerging between regional powers and terrorists.
''In numerous countries, radical ideas are spreading, advocating a confrontation of civilizations," he said, adding ''odious attacks" could escalate to ''other yet more serious forms involving states."
Chirac did not explain what he meant by regional powers. But officials close to the president and specialists said he was laying out France's strategic posture, not designating an enemy.
Chirac spoke at a base with the 110-member crew manning The Vigilant -- one of France's four nuclear-armed submarines.