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French Focus on Debt, Environment


WITH events planned at several of the French capital's dazzling new mega-monuments, the leaders of the world's seven major industrialized nations might think they are attending an architectural review rather than an economic summit when they meet here Friday. But French leaders insist that, despite the display of new edifices and the hoopla over the French Revolution's bicentennial, the summit will be a hard-working one with important initiatives in at least two areas: international debt and the environment.

French President Fran,cois Mitterrand would like to see progress toward liquidation of the debt of the world's poorest countries. His call for new money from the International Monetary Fund to retire that debt has not been answered favorably by the other summit members. At the same time, however, President Mitterrand's personal adviser, Jacques Attali, said this week he expects a ``framework'' for debt reduction to be drawn up at the summit.

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Yet very little concrete action is expected on other economic issues, such as further stabilization of exchange rates or international trade negotiations. The French recognize the weight carried by the United States's anticipated non-interventionist approach to exchange issues. There is also a realization that in recent years the economic technicalities have been addressed outside the summits.

Partly as a result of this realization, partly based on an assumption that the broad international economic picture is good, the seven leaders are expected to turn their attention to other issues, including the environment and will dedicate a complete session to global environmental problems.

Mitterrand, presiding over his last summit, would like this to be remembered as the environmental summit. Mr. Attali said he expects summit leaders to begin integrating environmental concerns into economic decisions and development aid.

The Western leaders, aware of the urgency and appeal of environmental issues, are likely to reach some agreement on ``conditions for third-world countries to adapt to norms of the battle against pollution,'' Attali said at a summit briefing earlier this week.

Discussion is also expected on proposals for tying the debt and environment issues together with ``debt-for-nature'' swaps. But commercial banks, which hold much of the developing world's debt, resist such projects.

``Even if there is some agreement on debt reduction, it's unlikely to include such exchanges in more than a very minor way,'' says Jean Pisani-Ferry, an economist with CEPI, a center for international economic studies here.

France is expected to propose Western assistance to plans for taming the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers. Monsoon flooding last year left 60 million people homeless.

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Other environmental issues likely to be touched on include measures to reduce global creation of chlorofluorocarbons and carbon dioxide. ``For the first time,'' adds Attali, ``we could possibly move towards a definition'' of solutions to these problems.

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