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Is there a 'consistency gap' in Reagan foreign policy?

One of the main points Ronald Reagan made during his elecion campaign was that the Carter administration lacked consistency in its foreign policy pronouncements.

But during its first few weeks in office, the new administraion has had some trouble being consistent in its statements on three subjects: Poland, foreign aid, and proposals for deployment of the neutron warhead to Western Europe.

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Most observers think no irreparable harm has been done by the inconsistencies and, as one foreign policy specialist in Congress put it, the administration should be allowed time to "put its act together."

The inconsistencies do seem to reveal, however, that:

* The foreign policy chain of command -- and communications among sometimes rival bureaucracies -- has yet to be clearly defined.

* The new administration has yet to think through some of the most difficult foreign policy questions.

The administration is having to adjust its tough-sounding campaign rhetoric to foreign policy realities. Its officials came in promising a more forceful foreign policy and they are sometimes sounding forceful in public before reaching unified, carefully considered positions on the specifics.

The first breach in the administration's foreign policy unity came when President Reagan's budget director, David A. Stockman, proposed the biggest reduction in American foreign aid since inception of the aid program. Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. opposed many of the aid cuts that would inevitably follow and began preparing counterproposals.

Then came the flap over the neutron warhead, with Secretary of Defense Caspar W. Weinberger saying he favored deployment of the controversial weapon and Mr. Haig emphasizing that no move would be made without adequate consultation with the Western European allies.

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The problem with Poland followed. A State Department spokesman gave the impression that US economic aid for Poland was not under consideration when, in fact, it was. He also led some reporters to believe that the US would be relatively unconcerned if Polish forces were used in a crackdown on the Polish labor movement. Official clarifications were later issued on both points.

There is still a potential for disagreement -- and possible inconsistency -- in two major areas of foreign policy:

At the State Department, some Middle East specialists are unhappy with Reagan's contention that Israeli's West Bank settlements are "not illegal." By saying this, Reagan seemed to repudiate more than a decade of American policy as well as US agreement with Geneva conventions.

On China policy, too, there are differences of emphasis, with some White House officials wanting to strengthen ties with Taiwan while State Department officials are opposed. For the time being, the State Department view seems to prevail.

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