updated 3/21/2008 10:27:35 AM ET 2008-03-21T14:27:35

President Nicolas Sarkozy announced a modest cut Friday in France's nuclear arsenal, to less than 300 warheads, and urged China and the United States to commit to no more weapons tests.

In his first major speech as president on France's nuclear "strike force," Sarkozy said atomic weapons would remain a vital component of its defenses to deter potential attackers.

"It is the nation's life insurance policy," he said.

Sarkozy said that while France faces no foreseeable danger of invasion, other threats exist. He singled out Iran's expansion and improvement of its long-range missile forces amid questions about whether it is trying to develop atomic weapons.

Europe's security 'at stake'
"The security of Europe is at stake," he said.

Sarkozy did not say how many warheads France currently has, and the Defense Ministry said that information is a state secret. The Federation of American Scientists, which tracks nuclear arsenals around the globe, said in a status report for 2008 that France had 348 warheads.

More than half of France's nuclear weapons are believed to aboard submarines, with the rest on warplanes.

Sarkozy said France would cut reduce its airborne force of atomic weapons by a third. "After this reduction, our arsenal will include less than 300 nuclear warheads," he said.

Speaking at the inauguration of a new nuclear submarine, The Terrible, Sarkozy followed his announcement of weapons cuts with appeals for other nations to scale back their nuclear facilities.

He appealed to China and the United States to ratify a nuclear test ban treaty that they signed in 1996. "It's time to ratify," he said.

Sarkozy also called for negotiations on treaties to ban short- and intermediate-range nuclear-armed missiles and bar the manufacture of fissile material for new atomic weapons.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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