France will not give up its nuclear weapons, because doing so would "jeopardise" its security, President Nicolas Sarkozy said as global leaders gathered for a summit on nuclear security.
"I cannot jeopardise the security and safety of my country," Sarkozy told CBS News on Monday, 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 programme "on a unilateral basis, in a world as dangerous as the one in which we live today."
He also hinted that countries like the US 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 realise, 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.