Reagan, Mitterrand take opposite economic tacks
When President Reagan meets French President Francois Mitterrand June 3, the two leaders will offer diametrically opposite approaches to treating the industrial world's economic ills, the major topic at this weekend's Versailles summit.
But despite differences over economic policy, the diplomatic climate for Mr. Reagan's visit is expected to be warm. He and Mr. Mitterrand have a good personal relationship, and according to one American diplomat, ''Relations between France and America are much better now than they were under the previous French government.''
There are still issues on the Reagan-Mitterrand agenda on which the two leaders disagree: economic priorities, the American hands-off policy in the currency markets, the transfer of Western technology and liberal export credits to the Soviet Union, and relations with the third world.
Where Mr. Mitterrand and Mr. Reagan disagree the most is over economic policy. Mr. Mitterrand feels that his efforts to ''relaunch'' the French economy are being stifled by high American interest rates and American unwillingness help stabilize Western currencies.
More fundamentally, he says President Reagan's priority of cutting inflation is wrong and insists that reducing unemployment should be the No. 1 issue.
''The Reagan administration says let the laws of the market rule,'' said one French official. ''We want the will of the government to be expressed.''
The French say they obviously do not expect Mr. Reagan to be turned into a Socialist over a lunchtime chat. Still, as President Mitterrand recently told a group of American journalists, he believes ''a minimum of consensus'' can be forged among the industrialized nations to promote worldwide economic growth.
Mr. Mitterrand will attempt to promote this consensus from the outset of the summit meeting by offering an opening report on technology, a long-range subject on which French officials feel everyone can agree. Although the document remains confidential, published reports say it will discuss how emerging technology could create jobs in Western economies.
On more pressing, controversial questions such as the coordination of monetary policies and a common position on East-West trade, the French also feel compromises can be worked out.
French officials are saying they are willing to put aside their complaints about high American interest rates if the US will cooperate in the foreign-exchange market to stabilize the French franc. Since Mr. Mitterrand's election last May, the franc has slipped to about six to the dollar.
But Mr. Mitterrand said recently that he does not think US interest rates will be a major issue at the summit, and that he thinks some agreement to stabilize European currencies can be reached.
Restricting sales of Western technology and tightening export credits to the Soviet Union are the other issues on which the French think agreement can be reached. The US is pushing for tight restrictions against the flow of strategic materials to the East and for a tightening of export credits to the Soviet Union. President Mitterrand has indicated he will go along, with some reservations.
The French have already agreed in principle to tighten export credit, and last week the French leader said he agreed that the sale of military-related technology to communist nations should be restrained.
But Mr. Mitterrand has not come entirely around to the American position. He said nothing about slowing down or stopping the controversial Soviet gas deal which France signed last December. And he did say France would not ''suppress'' established trade relations with the Soviet Union. ''We are not at war with the Soviet Union,'' he explained.
The two presidents also have different points of view about relations with the third world. Mr. Mitterrand will argue forcefully for more aid to the developing countries, French officials said. American officials here say Mr. Reagan will probably not be convinced and will instead suggest the third world rely on using free markets to develop their own economies.