France could look after Britain's nukes: report

8th October 2010, Comments 0 comments

Britain's nuclear arsenal could be maintained and serviced by France, in a rare collaboration on its closely-guarded independent deterrent, the Financial Times newspaper said Friday.

Paris and London are close to striking a deal that would see Britain use a French laboratory to help service its nuclear warheads, the British business daily said, citing sources in both countries.

The FT said the tie-up would would boost defence collaboration at a time when budgets are under pressure on both sides of the Channel.

The Ministry of Defence in London declined to comment when contacted by AFP.

The British and French submarine-launched nuclear deterrents use completely different systems.

Britain has 160 nuclear warheads operational out of a total of no more than 225.

Its Trident system is largely based on US technology and a treaty between London and Washington prevents Britain from sharing its nuclear secrets, the FT said.

France's Commissariat a l'Energie Atomique maintains the republic's 300 warheads, and under the discussions would service the British ones too.

"Making progress is easier now than it was. France is in NATO and many of the issues that divided us in the past -- such as the Iraq war -- have now disappeared," the FT quoted a British defence insider as saying.

The report comes three weeks before British Prime Minister David Cameron is to host French President Nicolas Sarkozy for their first bilateral summit.

At the last European Council meeting in Brussels in June, Cameron said Britain was "committed to an independent nuclear deterrent" and "defence was amongst a wide range of issues on the agenda for the UK-France summit".

The FT said that in recent weeks, British officials were invited to visit the French deterrent fleet in Brittany, with a return visit then paid to the British fleet in Scotland.

"We were finally able to see for ourselves what the other side has. It was a moving moment," the broadsheet quoted one official as saying.

Defence sources said the story was "speculation".

© 2010 AFP

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