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More countries keeping arms-length from Reagan

By Joseph C. Harsch / March 30, 1984



If you look around the world these days, you cannot help noticing that other countries are openly and pointedly putting distance between themselves and the United States.

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Latin American dictatorships and Israel are exceptions - and also part of the reason for others pulling away.

King Hussein of Jordan, for instance, refused to undertake any further peacemaking efforts in the Middle East on behalf of the US on the ground that the US had become a partisan of Israel.

King Hussein was host in Jordan this past week to British royalty. It was symbolic. If Jordan wants a friend in the West, it turns to Britain, not to the US. The fact that Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip have gone to Jordan, but not to Israel, hints at British as well as Jordanian disassociation from US policy.

That disassociation is sharply etched in British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's continued unfavorable references to the recent US invasion of Grenada. When a British MP was asked recently why Mrs. Thatcher kept on doing so , the MP replied in essence: ''You have to realize that it's not good politics in Britain or West Germany today to be too closely identified with the Reagan administration.''

French President Francois Mitterrand, too, is keeping his distance. During his visit to the US, he has said a lot of friendly things and stressed a basic community of interests. But in his opening speech to Congress he disassociated himself openly and pointedly from US policies toward Central America and the Soviet Union.

On Central America, he said that each nation in the region ''must be allowed to find its own path toward greater justice, greater democracy, and greater independence, and must be allowed to do so without interference or manipulation.''

On relations with Moscow he said, ''Let us not be afraid to enter into a dialogue with the Soviet Union.''

The White House is currently stressing improved relations with mainland China , but this past week a Chinese delegation concluded a fourth round of talks with the Soviets aimed at improving relations between those two countries. Although no important ''progress'' was reported, there are to be more such meetings aimed at ending a 20-year break in formal diplomatic relations between the world's two largest communist countries.

China has been quietly working itself toward a middle position between Moscow and Washington ever since Reagan renewed US weapons sales to Taiwan against Chinese warnings and protests.

West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl staunchly supported the deployment of the new intermediate-range American missiles in Europe, but he has also been to Moscow and has tried to act as a mediator between the Soviets and the US. The same is true of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau of Canada, whose swan song as a world statesman was a protracted and earnest effort at reviving detente.

Part of this dissociation from the US is temporary and superficial, but in part also it reflects a trend which has been building up for some time.

The idea of Western Europe developing an independent position between Washington and Moscow has been growing among the European allies from early in the Reagan administration. It can probably be dated from the attempt by the Mr. Reagan to block the building of the pipeline to carry natural gas from Siberia to Western Europe. The episode jolted the NATO allies into studying ways and means of rebuilding NATO to give Europeans equality in formulating policy.

The trend in European thinking was first clearly articulated in the spring 1983 issue of Foreign Affairs Quarterly in an article by Prof. Hedley Bull of Oxford. Profesor Bull is closely connected with British Foreign Office thinking and often expresses in public print what the official Foreign Office would say only in muted tones, if at all.

His article stated that underlying the ''peace movement'' in Western Europe is ''the correct perception that the risks of the alliance with the United States on present terms have grown to such an extent that they threaten the gains.''

Professor Bull concluded that ''the West European contries should seek to assume greater control of their own security, not by leaving the Atlantic alliance but at least by seeking to change its structure.''

The Bull article triggered thinking in Washington. Henry Kissinger phrased his own reaction to it in a long article published in the March 5 issue of Time Magazine in which he accepted much of the Hedley Bull thesis. He concluded that the time when the US can dominate and run the alliance is past, that NATO should be restructured, and that in the future the NATO supreme commander should be a European, not an American.

Much thinking is going on looking toward the day when the European allies could shape their own foreign policy with differences from US policy. French and Germans have been talking with each other seriously about closer military cooperation. But we are talking here about long-term thinking, not about something likely to happen in months or even in the next few years. In Brussels this week a further effort to obtain a European Common Market budget again broke down over farm policy. The British simply will not accept a budget which continues to burden them with the cost of high prices for largely French farm products.

The Europeans will have to put their own economic house in order before they will be able to move far along the road to real independence from the US.