Washington — President Reagan's hard line on foreign affairs is the counterpart of his domestic blitz to cut budget and taxes. In a few breathless weeks he has stirred Europe, the Soviet Union, and Latin America over bold initiatives as he has stirred Congress over the budget.
Following sweeping initial generalities there is a pause on both fronts while foreign offices and Congress wait to see what comes next. The two drives intersect at one point: Mr. Reagan is undertaking wholesale budget slashes but with one major exception -- the military. Arms expenditures will go up while domestic expenditures come down.
The hard line toward the Soviets was forecast in the campaign but was articulated sooner than expected.In Reagan's first press conference Jan. 29, he accused Soviet leaders of willingness "to commit any crime, to lie, to cheat" to attain world revolution.
Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr., in his first press conference, accused the Soviet Union of "training, funding, and equipping" international terrorism. The militancy of the language startled many foreign policy experts. And it appeared to be calculated to differentiate the Reagan administration from the Carter administration, which had put its emphasis on human rights and the formulation of the SALT II treaty for limitation of strategic arms. Reagan was saying he was going to be tough.
Tough answering taunts came from Soviet officials at the opening of the Soviet Communist Party's 26th Congress in Moscow. The world waited uneasily for the new relationship between the two superpowers to take shape. Washington, meanwhile, prepared to welcome British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher this week, who has generally been supportive of American foreign policy. Economically, America and Britain have separately embarked on policies that contrast starkly with the social democratic tradition of the past two decades.
Reagan began his presidency with the advantage of having no overchanging foreign affairs crisis. Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Nixon had their respective Korean, Bay of Pigs, and Vietnam problems. But for Reagan, the hostage crisis in Iran was resolved the day he took office. He has declined to pump it up since then, and the issue is apparently being defused.
The President inherited some critical, long-running problems, however, and has set about meeting them in his revised frame of reference. President Carter placed major emphasis on human rights; President Reagan makes plain that he will give and accept support from regimes abroad with less emphasis on their internal policies.
-- Chile. The US State Department imposed sanctions on Chile after the 1976 murder of Orlando Letelier and his American associate here, when Chile refused to extradite three former police officers under US indictment.
Sanctions included Export-Import Bank financing of trade with Chile, and participation in the annual joint exercises conducted in the Pacific by US and Latin American naval forces. The State Department Feb. 20 quietly lifted these sanctions.
-- El Salvador. This is the immediate showcase of the new Reagan policy of dealing with military turbulence in countries within America's zone of influence.The State Department charges that the insurrection in El Salvador is supported by Cuba, the USSR, and by Nicaraguan left-wing groups. It announces that it is prepared for drastic moves to go to the source of such help.
The administration has sent three missions abroad to explain its position and to reveal evidence of the ties it cites. Last week Lawrence S. Eagleburger made such a tour of NATO countries. The El Salvador incident is the initial example of America's tougher line. It is watched with deep interest by European allies who are being told that this will not become "another Vietnam," and that they will be kept informed.
"The insurgency in El Salvador has been progressively transformed into a textbook case of indirect armed aggression by communist poers," the State Department asserts in a formal memorandum.
-- Cuba. While the administration is showing its firmer line in El Salvador, hints are dropped of a new, stronger attitude toward Cuba, whose soldiers have been operating in many trouble spots as mercenaries for the Soviets. Where this new policy will lead is not yet disclosed.
The Reagan-Haig team also is reminding European allies that the US is preparing to make sacrifices to continue the multibillion arms buildup, and that it expects NATO associates to continue proportionate contributions.