``In a sense going to France is a way to get the French to pressure Washington. Not going to Germany is a way to get the Germans to pressure Washington.'' With this observation, one senior Western diplomat here sums up Moscow's tactics in Soviet policy toward Europe. He sees Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's just-ended first official trip west -- to France -- as mixed in purpose. First, it aims to get Washington's European allies to influence United States policy in directing arms control accommodation with Moscow. If that doesn't succeed, then it aims at driving a wedge between the US and its European allies.
This in turn fits into the larger mixed motivation on the part of the Soviets in seeing if a deal is possible with the US -- but blaming Washington for the failure if it doesn't work. ``I don't think they know'' if the main aim in their current charm and arms control campaign is propaganda or negotiation, the diplomat suggests. ``I think Gorbachev is engaging in a kind of fallback diplomacy.''
He and other Western analysts here see France's vocal opposition to the US Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI, or ``star wars'') as a significant factor in Mr. Gorbachev's selection of France for his maiden trip to the West as Soviet Communist Party general secretary. Moscow would dearly love to have the Europeans persuade President Reagan to accept restraints on SDI testing and deployment in exchange for mutual deep cuts in offensive weapons. And it hopes that West Germany would participate in such lobb ying, out of Bonn's constant wish for as much d'etente as possible, especially as a lubricant to better East German-West German relations.
Ironically, while Europeans incline to favor SDI restraints on the basis of their own analysis, the conspicuous Soviet pressure makes it more difficult for them to lobby the Americans for such a course.
Certainly Moscow's bid to negotiate separately with the British and the French about reducing their independent nuclear missiles drives no wedges between the US and Europe. Mr. Reagan has said he has nothing against such talks -- while Paris has declined such bilateral negotiations and London has put off negotiations until such time as the superpowers have first reduced their huge arsenals.