NATO hopes to tone down Reagan policy stance

Unity, continuity, and predictability are to be the policy hallmarks of the May 4 and 5 NATO foreign ministers' meeting in Rome. And the Europeans devoutly hope that US Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. will be able to sell these concepts to President Reagan when he goes home after his maiden appearance before his assembled NATO colleagues.

"The message," noted one West German diplomat, "is to underline the continuity of common foreign policy attitudes which cannot and will not be be upset by elections in [any] one of the partner countries." He referred to the 1980 US election and to this month's French election. But his emphasis was obvious when he added that he saw the Rome communique "as an element in the American opinionmaking process."

The European hope is that the unanimous NATO endorsement of a moderate and sophisticated world policy can help tilt the Reagan administration still further away from the black-and-white confrontational approach it started out with. The Europeans are pleased with the Reagan policy evolution so far, and they are soliciting more of the same.

Actually, the Rome meeting has been set up as a deliberate battlefield in the continuing struggle for Reagan's ear. Unusually, Haig separated the biannual NATO foreign ministers' meeting from the NATO defense ministers' meeting this time around --and scheduled the foreign ministers a week earlier to secure maximum initiative and publicity.

Haig, the professional diplomats under him, and the Western Europeans are all eager to preempt right-wing ideologues on the Reagan team by setting pragmatic alliance policy guidelines at this still-formative stage of Reagan policy.

In line with this, the Europeans hope especially that the Reagan administration will now see its way clear to announce in Rome a time frame -- presumably the fall -- for resumption of US-Soviet talks on European strategic arms limitation. The allies view this as essential, not only for its own sake, but also for rallying reluctant European public opinion behind NATO nuclear modernization.

Collectively, NATO will reaffirm in Rome its 1979 "double decision" to deploy 572 new medium-range nuclear weapons in the mid-80s -- unless negotiations bring "Eurostrategic" weapons on both sides down to a lower agreed balance.

Other issues to be covered in the lengthy communique on May 5, according to US and Western European diplomats, will include Namibia (South-West Africa), the third world in general, and the ongoing Madrid follow-up conference to the Helsinki European Security Conference. Poland and the Mideast are to play a more minor role -- Poland because the West has already stated its position repeatedly, and the Mideast because final Western policy formulation must await the outcome of Israel's June elections.

On Namibia the five Western powers that have been trying to negotiate independence and elections -- the United States, Canada, Britain, West Germany, and France -- are expected to restate their commitment to UN Resolution 435. The aim is to regain momentum toward a negotiated settlement following the US flirtation with perpetuating South African rule -- and the West Security Council veto of the reactive black African proposal to boycott South Africa.

On the third world, the Europeans hope they have persuaded the Reagan administration by now that real nonalignment favors the West rather than the Soviet Union. "The Europeans unanimously brought home to Americans the importance of the third world." remarked one diplomat. "We used the simple argument that [third world disapproval of the Soviet occupation of] Afghanistan can be turned to the advantage of the West rather than its disadvantage." Not doing so by scolding nonaligned countries for not joining the West would be quite "stupid," he added.

On the Madrid security conference, Europe hopes the US will agree not to set too early a deadline for a final communique.If the US did so, Moscow could easily stall, prevent the conference from reconvening in two years to discuss human right s -- and remove one more disincentive to a Soviet invasion of Poland.

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