Europe fears rudderless Reagan administration. Looks to Shultz to steady the course
Brussels and Bonn
The West Europeans are deeply concerned that the Iran fiasco may destroy President Reagan's authority and leave United States foreign policy rudderless for the crucial next two years. But at the same time, they are heaving a collective sigh of relief that George Shultz appears to be staying on as US secretary of state.Skip to next paragraph
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Asked in an interview about the importance to Europeans of keeping Mr. Shultz in office, the NATO secretary-general, Peter Carrington, eloquently looked toward heaven and made an imploring gesture.
More explicitly, a European ambassador stated, ``Here at NATO headquarters everybody is glad that Shultz is going to stay.''
And a West German diplomat commented that if you remove Shultz, ``you remove the man who has the most competence and experience [in the Reagan administration in foreign policy]. Shultz understands East-West relations.''
Concurring in his colleagues' judgment, a British diplomat noted, ``If he goes, everything goes.'' And he continued, speaking of the aftermath of the Iran adventure in Washington, ``It's not over yet. It's just going down, down, down.''
For Europeans perhaps even more than for Americans, the six weeks since the Iceland summit have been an emotional roller coaster. Before the summit, Europeans were generally concerned that the Reagan administration might be too rigid in superpower negotiations and insist on preserving an unfettered Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI or ``star wars'') at the cost of killing the best opportunity for comprehensive arms control in the nuclear era. In the days after Iceland, by contrast, the Europeans were alarmed by Mr. Reagan's impulsive summit target of abolishing all ballistic missiles in 10 years; for them this meant a casual willingness to give up the nuclear umbrella Washington has held over Europe for the past four decades - and to abandon Europe to the mercies of Soviet conventional superiority.
For Europeans, who attach supreme importance to stability and predictability, all this was uncertainty enough. But worse came with the revelations about secret, clumsy American arms shipments to Iran, with money siphoned off to the Nicaraguan contra rebels. At this point Europeans are less disturbed by the apparent hypocrisy of the administration's constant pressuring of Europeans not to deal with Mideast sponsors of terrorism - or by the apparently illegal diversion of funds to finance what Europeans tend to regard as an unnecessary American obsession in Latin America - than by the threatened disintegration of the Reagan administration in its final years. They recall the pattern of the Johnson administration (over Vietnam), the Nixon administration (over Watergate), and the Carter administration (over the hostages in Iran).
This specter of disintegration is all the more distressing, since the quality Europeans have valued most in Reagan has been his phenomenal ability to restore American self-confidence.
``Now begins the danger of a President that loses his authority; then you have no policy at all,'' a West German official summarized.
Much more diplomatically, Lord Carrington stated, ``We like to see your president very acceptable and in charge of the administration.''