French President Franois Mitterrand is courting East bloc nations in an attempt to shore up his nation's flagging diplomatic image. His meeting last week with Poland's Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski was just a part of this wider diplomatic scheme.
President Mitterrand was widely criticized, even by his closest advisers, for receiving General Jaruzelski. Whether Mr. Mitterrand knew that by shaking hands with Jaruzelski he would provoke an outcry is open to question. There are indications, however, that he would have gone ahead with his plan anyway -- since, according to observers here, he wants to make it clear that in the area of foreign policy he is the boss.
Diplomatic observers from several West European nations and some French sources cite a number of reasons behind Mitterrand's decision to meet with Jaruzelski.
According to several of these analysts, Mitterrand has left his country in a weakened and isolated position in the West, as a result of foreign policy miscalculations.
Mitterrand's biggest mistake, in terms of French national interests, has been to allow the close French-German alliance to weaken. Without West German support, France cannot expect to play a leading role within the European Community. Without West Germany, France does not carry enough weight to give itself a desired autonomy vis-`a-vis the Soviet Union and the United States.
Some diplomatic observers say that, in its place, a London-Bonn axis has emerged. Germany has chosen to build a European combat plane in cooperation with Britain rather than with France.
France is opposed to President Reagan's space-based Strategic Defense Initiative. Mitterrand believes SDI would make France's nuclear-deterrence force meaningless and would shake the foundations of its cherished independent defense network.
And France is concerned that losing status among its Western partners will soon mean losing status among its third world friends, particularly Africans.
At the same time, France is increasingly concerned about being left out as a thaw begins to set in between East and West. Reagan has met with Gorbachev, and they will meet again. East German leader Erich Honecker may be about to meet with West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl.
In the face of all these concerns, Mitterrand launched his own ``ost-politik.''
Feeling cornered and isolated, he saw the chance to strengthen his diplomatic hand with Soviet support.
He refused to attend a pre-Geneva allied summit meeting in October which President Reagan called. Instead, he received Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in Paris. Now he has officially received Jaruzelski, and by doing so has given the Polish leader a big boost. While Jaruzelski has contained Polish dissent, he lacks recognition in the West. Mitterrand has given him a helping hand in this regard.
Jaruzelski's visit to Paris reportedly had been prepared since last summer in secrecy at the highest level (Prime Minister Laurent Fabius and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs were kept in the dark).
Mitterrand's meeting the Polish leader is also seen as a boost for the Soviets.
Mitterrand hopes that Washington and Bonn ``will get the message.'' He wants them to view France's interests more seriously, lest France, as a strategically-placed ally, push its overtures with Moscow forward and thereby open a dangerous gap in the Western alliance.
How far Mitterrand can move along this path is questionable. The French have expressed their outrage at Mitterrand's meeting with Jaruzelski. Economically, France is too closely tied to its European partners to be able to play the diplomatic loner.
One senior West European diplomat sees Jaruzelski's visit to Paris as ``a desperate move by a leader [Mitterrand] who has badly mismanaged his country's domestic and international affairs and who makes a last try at recouping his losses.''