US envoy seeks to clear air with allies over Libya. Walters visits European leaders to `consult,' not to demand
As much as is possible for an unwelcome guest, Lt. Gen. Vernon Walters is trying to calm European fears. Throughout his tour of eight West European capitals, the United States special envoy has been facing hordes of reporters, denying the assertion that he is pressuring US allies for new sanctions against Libya.
After meeting French President Fran,cois Mitterrand on Tuesday, he told reporters he had come ``to consult with the allies of the US on questions dealing with terrorism and on other questions,'' not ``to make demands.''
In private, General Walters seems to be taking a similar line. According to a report yesterday in the daily Le Monde, Walters revealed no plans for military action. Instead, during his meeting with President Mitterand, he praised the measures taken by the Europeans to fight terrorism and asked for further help in economically isolating Libya.
According to the Le Monde report, the two also discussed Chad, where French troops are based to counterbalance Libyan forces in the north. Reports have circulated of a planned joint US-French attack, but the paper insisted that no military operation was considered.
Less clear is whether Walters convinced his hosts that Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi plans new attacks against US targets in Europe. The Europeans say they have no evidence of such plans.
``We're always vigilant,'' says one French Foreign Ministry official, ``but apparently it's calm.''
From that perspective, Europeans find it hard to understand why Washington is reviving the Libya issue. Political analysts and diplomatic sources suggest that Walters's visit is a grandstand event designed for American domestic politics.
In the European view, the visit presents the Europeans with a no-win situation. ``If we say `yes,' then we look like we're playing poodle to the American master,'' says Olivier Todd, a columnist and former editor of the newsweekly, L'Express. ``If we say `no,' then we provoke an alliance crisis.''
Even without being forced to give a clear `yes' or `no,' the dangers are clear. On the same day that President Mitterrand met with Walters, the radical Islamic Jihad made new threats against the four French hostages they claim to hold in Lebanon. Islamic Jihad warned France to ``stay clear of American policy.''
Domestic politics make European leaders even more wary about the US attitude toward Libya. West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, who met with Walters yesterday in Bonn, faces national elections on January 25, and fears that the opposition Social Democratic Party could win votes in an atmosphere of increased tension.
British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's rating in opinion polls fell after she permitted US bombers to use British airbases in their attack on Libya in April. She has reportedly refused to meet with Walters when he visits London tomorrow.
And Socialist President Mitterrand fears that Libya could strain his relationship with conservative Prime Minister Jacques Chirac. Mr. Walters is to return to Paris today to meet with Mr. Chirac, who was in the South Pacific earlier this week.