As Some Members Boycott, Chirac Tells Congress N-Tests Ended Forever
WASHINGTON (AP) _ French President Jacques Chirac assured Congress Thursday that France, ``an ally you can count on,″ has ended nuclear testing forever. Many House Democrats boycotted out of anger over testing France already has done.
Despite the hostility of Democrats in the House, however, President Clinton gave a warm reception to the first French president in 12 years to make a state visit to Washington.
He greeted Chirac at the White House as ``the leader of a great nation and great people.″ Clinton focused on the two nations’ long ties and did not mention the nuclear dispute.
Only about 30 of the House’s 197 Democrats attended the speech, but it was uncertain how many were participating in the boycott. Blue-jacketed teen-age congressional pages and young staff members were rushed in at the last minute to fill some of the empty chairs on the Democratic side. Still, many remained empty.
Asian-American, black and Hispanic members organized the boycott to protest French nuclear testing that ended last Saturday with the most powerful blast of the latest series.
Applause was limited during the speech, but Chirac received a prolonged ovation when he made the anti-nuclear pledge and again at the end.
Using language slightly different from his announcement Monday in Paris of an end to testing, Chirac told the congressmen, ``France has finished once and for all its nuclear testing, after a final series designed to give us the assurance that our deterrent capability is reliable and safe.″
In Paris, he stressed the achievement of a ``viable and modern defense,″ words he did not use in addressing the joint session of the House and Senate.
``Together we must promote disarmament and combat the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction,″ Chirac said in an English translation piped to members.
Chirac, whose address came between meetings with Clinton, praised U.S. leadership in former Yugoslavia, urged a strong U.S. role in reconstruction of Bosnia and hailed the strength of the two-century-old U.S.-French alliance. He also stressed the need for aid to poor countries.
``Naturally, our interests do not always coincide,″ Chirac said, ``but since the very beginning France has always been, and will always be, the ally of the United States, on the basis of equal rights and obligation. A firm ally, an ally you can count on.″
Chirac noted that he studied in the United States and worked as a driver and a soda jerk, but he used no English in his speech.
Chirac urged the United States to make 1996 ``the year of the signing of the complete and definitive test-ban treaty, with the `zero yield option’ that France and the United States were the first to propose.″
He praised the Senate for ratifying the START II treaty last week, which he said will lead to further progress in disarmament.
The ``zero yield″ option bars the smallest of nuclear explosions, even those intended only to ensure the safety and reliability of nuclear weapons.
Just prior to the speech, Rep. Patsy Mink, D-Hawaii, said a news conference with nine other boycott supporters that she hoped the boycott would be extended to Clinton’s state dinner for Chirac. Eni Faleomavaega, delegate from American Samoa, reminded her that none of the group had been invited.