Paris — Afghanistan -- as seen by French politicians -- is a case of the two superpowers set on a course of "super-suicide." The French government's answer is to keep its own policy options open and -- in the words of French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing -- ". . . search patiently, with realism, without illusions, for whatever can be done to reduce the international tension."
The French position is that the greatest present threat to world peace lies in splitting East and West once again into two strictly defined and inflexible blocs -- and that therefore France serves Western interests best by refusing to follow "blindly" down a road chosen in Washington.
Le Matin, a Paris newspaper that tends to reflect public opinion to the left of government thinking, recently warned readers that war could break out between the Soviet Union and the United States. The front-page story was headlined: Carter ready for war.
That headline echoes a feeling here that for a variety of reasons, domestic as well as international, America could lead the West up to or even over the brink of a world war.
It is against this background that top-level French- West German talks are under way in Paris.
Agreeing on the urgency of the situation, French President Giscard d'Estaing and West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt expanded their prearranged summit talks into a three-day session that began Feb. 3 in Paris.
They also enlarged the meeting to bring in 11 Cabinet ministers from each government, including the defense ministers.
Another dimension was added to the talks by the concurrent meetings in Paris between French Foreign Minister Jean Francois- Poncet and British Foreign Secretary Lord Carrington.
Proud of its own record of using its troops effectively in Africa when the rest of the West stood back, the French government now shows great respect for Lord Carrington because of his intervention in Rhodesia.
Clearly the French hope that Lord Carrington will be able to understand their position of "independentism" -- and that he will help to soften the hard anti-Soviet position taken by British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
Perhaps the most important voice at the Giscard- Schmidt talks, however, will prove to be that of Jimmy Carter.
In trying to reach an agreed position with regard to the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan, the French and German governments have been carefully going back over what the US President has said not only in relation to Afghanistan but also over such things as the neutron bomb.
The French and West Germans have been impressed by Mr. Carter's strong stand over Afghanistan -- but question whether the American government is firmly committed to a new policy, or just experimenting.
Veteran French politician Michel Poniatowski summed up French doubts about the US position on Afghanistan by commenting that "the Russians are playing chess, the Americans are playing poker."