PARIS — FRENCH President Francois Mitterrand makes a brief introductory visit to President Clinton tomorrow to reinforce France's position in the international political arena, even as his domestic political stature continues to crumble.
Mr. Mitterrand, who is scheduled to spend less than four hours with the new US president, makes the visit three weeks before an anticipated crushing defeat for his ruling Socialists in national elections will oblige him to name an opposition-party prime minister. The adversity facing the Socialists is pointed up by the fact that Mitterrand will travel to Washington without Foreign Minister Roland Dumas, who is mired in a tough battle for a seat in the National Assembly.
By traveling this week to Washington, and next week to Moscow to visit Russian President Boris Yeltsin, Mitterrand is looking both to reassure foreign partners that France's domestic fireworks have not pulled the country's attention from international affairs, and to signal opposition leaders at home that he intends to hold on to France's international political levers after the elections. "Mitterrand wants to protect the presidency's foreign-affairs and defense functions," says Phillipe Moreau Defarges,
a political analyst at the French Institute for International Relations in Paris.
Officials at the presidential Elysee Palace and political analysts note that France and the United States have been very close, and continue to move closer to each other, on most major international issues - with its agriculture sector standing as a glaring exception in international trade talks. Mitterrand is determined, analysts say, to see that whatever "rupture" France experiences on the domestic political scene does not trouble the country's relationship either with the US or among the world's prima ry powers.
"Since the Gulf war, a certain directorate has begun to function in international affairs, encompassing the permanent members of the [United Nations] Security Council, and then Germany and Japan," says Michel Foucher, director of the European Geopolitical Observatory in Lyon, France.
"Although no one uses the name," adds Mr. Foucher, "this `directorate' was put into place by [former President] Bush. Mr. Clinton is demonstrating by his early consultations with Russia that he intends to pursue it, and Mitterrand understands the necessity of continuing in that direction, and with France very present."
A new center-right French government is not likely to greatly trouble this vision, since the French left and right agree on the broad lines of French foreign policy. But discord on international issues is not ruled out: Last week Alain Juppe, secretary-general of the Gaullist Rally for the Republic and a possible foreign minister in a future government, said in a published interview that he supports Germany's bid for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council - a bid Mitterrand opposes.
French presidential spokesman Jean Musitelli says that while France and the US have "always stood side by side in crises," it is now "more than ever necessary that the Franco-American relationship be reinforced as an element of international stability."
Aside from "getting to know this new American president," Mr. Musitelli says Mitterrand will be looking for a few specifics, first concerning the former Yugoslavia.
Despite satisfaction over American support for the Bosnia peace plan formulated by UN envoy Cyrus Vance and European Community negotiator Lord David Owen, Mitterrand will ask Clinton what amendments the US anticipates proposing to the Vance-Owen plan; how the US intends to take part in the peace negotiations; what role Clinton-named envoy Reginald Bartholomew will play; and how prepared the US is to participate in a peace plan's application and enforcement.
Mitterrand will also bring up the prickly issue of international trade negotiations. The US government's intentions "remain very fuzzy," Musitelli says.
And Mitterrand will want to give the new US president his view of the continuing construction of a new Europe - especially since Clinton met just last week with British Prime Minister John Major, whose views on Europe diverge widely from Mitterrand's.