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France's `Great Rendezvous' With the US

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THE past several years have been difficult for France and the United States. Beginning with the Gulf crisis, through the disputes about NATO's future, and into a bitter conflict over a US-European Community GATT agreement on agriculture, French and American positions on important issues often have diverged.

Differences between Washington grew to the point that at the end of last year, during discussions of French-German plans to create an independent "Eurocorps," then-US Secretary of State James Baker III reportedly asked his counterpart Roland Dumas, "Are you for us or against us?"

The recent French election, following America's change of course, presents an opportunity to create a more trusting relationship between the US and its oldest ally. Doing so, however, will require open minds, understanding, and compromise on both sides, which are far from guaranteed.

The French vote was an even greater upset than had been expected. The right's landslide, however, hardly means smooth sailing for new Prime Minister Edouard Balladur of the neo-Gaullits (RPR). Instead, the vote may lead to what might be called a "triple cohabitation." Mr. Balladur will have to get along first with his pro-European liberal (UDF) coalition partners, second with the large anti-European faction in his own party, and finally with the Socialist President, Francois Mitterrand. Mr. Mitterrand, d espite the repudiation of his party by voters and his own 26 percent popularity rating, is planning to stay on to finish his seven-year term, which runs until 1995.

For the US, the most promising facet of the new government is its attitude toward NATO. Even the so-called "Gaullists" now criticize the Socialists for their ongoing resistance to NATO's adaptation. RPR leaders such as Jacques Chirac point out that "integration with 70,000 American troops will not have the same meaning as when the US contingent was 300,000." Party defense expert Francois Fillon calls for a "recasting of the Gaullist model for defense"; Gaullist deputy Jacques Baumel calls for "an end to France's outmoded attitude toward NATO"; and Balladur has suggested that NATO expand to include the states of Central Europe.

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