Share this story
Close X
Switch to Desktop Site

Paris-Washington honeymoon is over

The Paris-Washington honeymoon is over.

It was an odd match to begin with - the socialist France of Francois Mitterrand and the capitalist America of Ronald Reagan.

About these ads

Still, since Mr. Mitterrand assumed office, the two presidents had established a good personal rapport and a hard-line strategic consensus against the Soviet Union.

But now, angered by American levies on subsidized European steel, by American Middle East policy, and most of all, by the American technology embargo intended to delay construction of the Soviet gas pipeline to Western Europe, Mr. Mitterrand is fuming at his American partner.

The American actions, he charged, are ''restrictive, humiliating, unfair, and dangerous.'' The attack, only the most recent in a series of harsh public criticisms by the French President, was made at the Common Market summit last week in Brussels.

Other European leaders at the summit were also angry with Mr. Reagan. But Mr. Mitterrand was perhaps the most upset, pushing for a much tougher communique than was finally released at the end of the summit.

''Relations between Paris and Washington haven't just hit a cold spell, they are pre-glacial,'' one American diplomat here observed.

But just before the Versailles summit a month ago, Franco-American ties were warming. The same US diplomat who now describes relations as in a deep freeze was saying then, ''relations are better, much better, than could be expected.''

This diplomat was pleased because the French seemed to be toning down their support for the guerrillas in El Salvador and the Sandanistas in Nicaragua.

About these ads

At the same time, French diplomats were also pleased. They said they sensed President Reagan would let the disputed Soviet gas contract go ahead and would agree to intervene in the currency markets to support the ailing French franc.

All this was on top of the solid personal foundation the two presidents had constructed over the year. In their meetings the two presidents got along well. And they agreed that the West must stand up to the Soviet Union.

Mr. Mitterrand cheered the Americans by leading his European counterparts in accepting the modernization of US missiles and by unflinchingly condemning the Soviet Union over Afghanistan and Poland. He had even inched France from its wayward status in NATO closer to the alliance. But at Versailles, this consensus fell apart.

''Versailles was the watershed,'' a US diplomat here explained. ''Everybody's expectations were too high and it became clear we were going in different directions.''

The first post-Versailles American action to anger the French was levying heavy duties on European subsidized steel. Mr. Mitterrand denounced it as ''disguised protectionism.''

Even more disturbing to the French was Mr. Reagan's surprise imposition of a technology embargo to delay construction of the Soviet gas pipeline. Mr. Mitterrand said it constituted ''economic warfare'' - something he will not participate in despite his anti-Soviet line.

At Versailles, French diplomats say Mr. Mitterrand thought Mr. Reagan had promised him not to try to scuttle the project. US diplomats here deny that any such promise was given. Although the French made a general commitment at Versailles to cut back on credits to the Soviet bloc, the Americans thought it was not nearly enough.

''They weren't giving in at all really on credits, and that was the key issue to us,'' a US diplomat explained.

And because there was no agreement on export credits, the American official said Mr. Reagan felt no obligation after Versailles to intervene in the currency markets. As a result, the franc continued to weaken, forcing Mr. Mitterrand unhappily to devalue and abandon his expansionary economic policies in favor of austerity.

''We became the easy scapegoat for these unpopular actions,'' the American diplomat said.

Still, the American diplomat emphasized that Mr. Mitterrand's anger is real. ''The scapegoat thing may add to it but the differences are serious,'' he said.

Not only do the two countries now seem split over dealing with the Soviet Union, but their policies in the Middle East and Latin America are once again at odds.

Mr. Mitterrand is the European leader most upset with America's perceived lack of condemnation of Israel's invasion of Lebanon. Once thought of as Israel's best friend in Europe, Mr. Mitterrand now has taken a strong pro-Palestinian position.

The Americans angered him by vetoing a French-sponsored United Nations resolution calling for an international force to neutralize the west Beirut area. And even though rumors are flying here that the French may eventually participate with America in such a peace-keeping force, French diplomats continue to vigorously criticize American Mideast diplomacy.

Apparently in an irritated response to all these disagreements, Mr. Mitterrand has decided to step up support for the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. American sources say that the French have begun delivering the arms they had earlier contracted to supply to the Sandanista regime. (The same deliveries that , after American arm-twisting, the French had postponed a few months ago).

''And we're not happy at all about it,'' an American official here said.

Follow Stories Like This
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.