Washington — A cool and confident Secretary of State George P. Shultz surveys the world with a conviction that things are going better for the United States. Critics point to an apparent freeze in US-Soviet relations, continued fighting in Central America, and tensions in the Middle East.
But Secretary Shultz argues that the important question to ask is whether American interests are being served. In a interview with The Christian Science Monitor, the secretary contended that those interests are being better served under this administration than under the last.
Mr. Shultz says the administration has contributed to curbing the spread of Soviet influence in the world and gave Grenada and Mozambique as examples.
Despite the recent flurry of statements from Moscow and Washington pointing to a possible US-Soviet meeting, Shultz says the Soviets seem to be engaged in a tactic of withdrawing from relations with the US - creating a sense of chill and ''stiff-arming everybody'' - in an effort to extract concessions.
The last thing one should do under such circumstances, he indicated, is grant concessions in order to get the Soviets back to the negotiating table. Shultz was referring to the negotiations on strategic and intermediate-range nuclear missiles which the Soviets have broken off in Geneva. He was not referring to consideration of proposed negotiations to control antisatellite weapons, where the administration does appear to have softened its position on holding talks.
Looking at US interests around the world, Shultz sees improvements in Western Europe, Asia, southern Africa, and Latin America, including El Salvador. He says that the four-nation Contadora peace process is making progress toward resolving Central America's conflicts and that Nicaragua has moderated its rhetoric. He contends that the administration does have a strategy for dealing with the Latin American debt crisis and argues against putting a cap on interest rates.
Not usually given to the use of strong adjectives, Shultz says that increases in employment and lower rate of inflation in the United States are ''just stunning.'' The ultimate solution to the debt problem, he says, lies in creating ''an environment of economic expansion.''
The secretary of state said that while European nations complained at the recent London summit about US deficits, there was only one nation out of the seven at the meeting which had a lower ratio of debt to gross national product than the US.
''So they are all sitting around complaining about the United States' deficit , but their deficits are worse,'' Shultz said. ''And to the argument, 'Well, but it's the scale of the United States,' if you add up Europe - if there were a United States of Europe - the scale would be more or less the same scale.''
The secretary of state made these additional points about the world's conflicts in the interview:
* In the Iran-Iraq war, the US has ''probably had some success'' in getting other nations to cut their arms sales to Iran, but it's difficult to know what this adds up to, given the proliferation of private arms dealers.
* In El Salvador, in his view, the armed forces have improved their performance, and President Jose Napoleon Duarte is generating increased support and international recognition of his leadership. Shultz foresees a guerrilla offensive sometime soon, which will ''no doubt make some headway.'' But overall, Shultz says, ''things are moving in the right direction.''
On a personal note at the end of the interview, Shultz said he did not know the origin of several press reports of some months ago which indicated that he wanted to resign from his post. He said that he was enjoying his job. But, he added, ''I didn't come here to have fun.''
Excerpts from the Monitor interview:
I wonder if you could begin by summing up what you feel the administration has achieved in foreign policy. As you know, some people say that there are no foreign policy achievements in this administration.
I think the way to judge the success or lack of it in foreign policy is to consider what the interests of the United States are in the world, and then ask whether those interests have been well served. . . .
I think that using that as the criterion, the United States' interests are being better served now than they were . . . by a significant margin in identifiable ways, and there, I think the foreign policy is successful. I think you have to start with the reality that we are stronger - our economy is in healthier shape than it was; our defense posture is in healthier shape than it was. Our general sense of self-confidence is better. . . .
We are sort of over the extreme doubts about our system that seemed to characterize (it) six or eight years ago. These things have reflected themselves out in the world, and people once again are admiring the United States.
The last summit meeting (in London) was a marker in terms of strength and cohesion - not only the summit meeting but also the NATO meeting which preceded it - on the key respects of security and at the same time determination to resolve things in a reasonable way. (There was) quite a lot of admiration for the way the United States economy is moving. . . .
If you go around the world sort of assessing how we stand in various places, I think the Asian picture is extremely good. That doesn't mean there aren't tensions on the border between North and South Korea, but I think we are well positioned on that. It doesn't mean we're not very dissatisfied with the situation in Kampuchea (Cambodia), but we are working effectively with the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) countries on that. . . .
Our relationship with Pakistan is better than it's been for years. . . . I think with India, we have made some progress, starting with (Prime Minister Indira) Gandhi's visit here about a year and a half ago.
In South America, our relationships are much stronger. Take Brazil, for example. . . . There are horrendous debt problems which represent an earlier era of too-easy living. . . . We have had to come to grips with the tough end of that, and it's been done quite successfully.
In Central America, I think we are in the process of convincing those who want to upset things by force that they are not going to succeed.
In southern Africa, we have made some headway. In Africa as a whole, of course, it's a very troubled continent. I think we are interacting with those African problems in a reasonably constructive way . . . a new African (economic) initiative that has been put forward.
In the Middle East, of course, we were disappointed that things did not go differently in Lebanon . . . but we haven't stopped working on the problem. . . . In the Iran-Iraq war, we're trying to help as best we can to get it resolved and . . . see that it doesn't kind of spill over in its effects on others - so far, reasonably successful. . . .
I don't want to go away without using the word ''China.'' That's an outstanding development, I think, of the President's managing that (US-China) relationship and bringing it to the point where it is.
With respect to the Soviet Union, the President has handled this extremely well. They must respect the United States. We have a very strong agenda of arms control; the program is out on the table. Some they've walked away from; on some , they are at the table and not responding to them. But I think the general notion of a reduced curve - 'Let's get this thing down' - has a great deal of appeal and rightness to it. . . .
In the meantime, the tendency that one could see of Soviet influence to spread in the world - that has stopped, and to a certain extent, their influence is less. . . .
There is a tendency, I find, to judge whether or not foreign policy is successful according to whether or not you've made some sort of major agreement with the Russians or some other agreement. And I think those are good things, all right, if they are reasonable and in the interest of the United States. But the main thing to register on is, ''What are our interests?' and 'Are they being well served. . . ?''
The suggestion keeps coming up that we ought to have regular US-Soviet summit meetings, not necessarily with a fixed agenda.
Well, the President has been and is prepared for a real meeting with the Soviet leaders. Remember that he invited (Leonid) Brezhnev. We've had correspondence with Soviet leaders. In retrospect, it's obvious that there wasn't any healthy-enough Soviet leader for the President to meet with during the first two years of his term. Then came Mr. Andropov. . . . I think you have to ask yourself, ''why have they walked out of nuclear arms negotiations? Why are they stiff-arming everybody, right and left?''
In the developing countries, there has been some criticism that our approaches to the debt problem have been on a country-by-country, six-month, one-year sort of basis. As you know, there are many ideas floating around about a cap on interest rates. Do you see the US pretty much continuing the approach we're taking?
Well, I think people don't seem to appreciate that there is a strategy, a grand strategy, you might say, that sees that each country's problem is unique . . . obviously, they do have certain things that affect them in common, and a strategy has been, working case by case, to get countries moving toward a sounder and more sustainable pattern of economic management; to supplement, as we did, the resources of the International Monetary Fund . . . ; and to create, for our own sake, as well as theirs, an environment of economic expansion.