"Jacques Chirac is an idiot," chided Belgian daily De Morgen in an editorial. "He lives in a time where France is no longer a world power, but he's still acting as if prolonging a Napoleonic dynasty."
Spain's El Pais called the speech "radical and dangerous."
Many faulted the timing. France, Britain and Germany have been seeking guarantees that Iran will not develop nukes, and have taken key steps toward possible U.N. sanctions against Tehran.
"Such saber rattling in the face of the current crisis over Iran's atomic weapons program is basically a false signal," said Xanthe Hall of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War in Berlin.
France's nuclear arsenal, which analysts estimate at some 300 warheads mostly deployed on submarines, is viewed as a deterrent tool and is not intended for a battle situation.
Observers saw a political pitch at home by Chirac: activist groups and even military circles have questioned the euro3 billion-plus ($3.62 billion) annual cost to keep up France's nuclear arsenal.
But at home, too, the speech garnered criticism.
"Another pearl in the words of Chirac — but this one is a bit dramatic and provocative," said Revolutionary Communist League party leader Alain Krivine, a longtime critic of the conservative Chirac, on French TV. "It's a completely irresponsible declaration."
Surrender Monkies...SURRENDER Your NUKES! Don't make us criticize you!