Venice summit talks politics, acts on energy

Sweeping decisions affecting the lives of millions of people were made at the Venice summit, but they are going relatively unremarked, even by President Carter.

Speaking informally to a group of reporters, the President stressed his tough line against the Soviet Union as a key topic during his two days of talks with other top free-world leaders here.

In the long run, however, Afghanistan, Iran, and other political topics noted by Mr. Carter are likely to fade from memory.

Not so with the basic decision made at Venice -- a "binding" commitment to "break the link" between oil consumption and economic growth by 1990, only 10 years away.

Achievement of this goal, said the presidents and prime ministers gathered at Venice, will require not only less use of oil, but also greatly increased production and burning of coal, more nuclear power plants, and major supplies of synthetic fuels.

The Monitor asked Mr. Carter whether all this could be done, without damage to the environment and without relaxing antipollution laws in the United States.

"There will be," replied the President, "no relaxation of [US] air pollution laws through greater use of coal, nor from the development of synthetic and other fuels."

Many experts doubt that, given the present state of technology, damage to air , water, and land can be avoided, if more of these fuels are burned. Beyond that, lively public opposition to nuclear power, especially in the US and West Germany, presents Mr. Carter and other summit leaders with a formidable public relations job when they return home.

Yet the goal they set out glitters with promise -- a saving of 15 to 20 million barrels of oil a day by 1990, according to French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing.

Among other specifics offered by the French leader:

* None of the seven summit countries should build new electricity-generating plants that are oil fired. This in itself indicates a major switch of energy policy for the US, Canada, Britain, France, West Germany, and Japan.

* Coal production is to be doubled in the seven nations, new nuclear power plants will have to come on stream, and synthetics, biomass, thermal, and solar power will have to be developed, often from scratch.

"Until the oil crisis of 1974," said Mr. Giscard d'Estaing, "a 1 percent economic growth meant a 1 percent increase in oil imports."

Already, said the French leader, the ratio has been reduced somewhat, and by 1990 -- if these commitments are carried out -- 1 percent of economic growth will be achieved with an input of only 0.6 percent of energy.

"It all boils down," said British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, "to this simple proposition: If we reduce our dependence on foreign oil, we reduce our vulnerability to actions taken by the oil-producing powers."

Then she added a proviso, certain to raise the hackles of liberals in the United States: "We must let the price of energy go up," to discourage consumption of oil.

President carter has struggled in vain to pass the full replacement cost of energy on to American consumers, against the opposition of Congress. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D) of Massachusetts, in fact, would reverse the upward-price trend by ending Mr. Carter's gradual price decontrol of domestic oil.

"There was," said Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, "a mod of cautious optimism among [the leaders at Venice] that we can cope with our problems."

He cited a feeling that the industrialized democracies had begun to find solutions to the economic problems that have plagued them since the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) quadrupled oil prices in 1973.

The chiefs of government pledged to help poor nations of the world, some of them overwhelmed by debts, produce more of their own food and explore for indigenous supplies of energy.

Mr. Trudeau and West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt said they would participate in a so-called mini-summit, to include major industrial powers, poor developing nations, plus oil-rich members of OPEC.

Much talk was heard in Venice about political differences between the United States and its allies over President Carter's handling of the Afghanistan and Iranian problems. Especially prickly was a long tete-a- tete between Mr. Carter and Mr. Schmidt.

At the end of all this, the President -- in his talk with US reporters -- emphasized his continuing adherence to tough sanctions against the Soviet Union, until all Soviet troops leave Afghanistan.

Asked about the limited troop withdrawal announced by Moscow, Mr. Carter said: "My experience has been not to be optimistic."

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