At the end of US Secretary of State Cyrus Vance's Feb. 19-21 visit to four European capitals, French-NATO relations show more strain than do US-European relations.
Mr. Vance's four hours of talks with French Foreign Minister Jean Francois- Poncet appear not to have brought US- French thinking significantly closer.
And at least on the most visible issue -- boycotting the Moscow Olympics -- the other West Europeans reportedly sided with the Americans rather than with the French at the European Community foreign ministers' meeting in Rome Feb. 19.
On coming out of his conversation with Mr. Francois-Poncet Feb. 21, Mr. Vance admitted that "there were some differences between us on the actions we have taken in response" to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.
US Ambassador to France Arthur A. Hartman had gone far beyond this in a speech the previous evening scoring "certain political figures" who state that "Europe should be 'de-NATO-ized' and that France should find a new way between the two superpowers." This, Mr. Hartman said, "can only be characterized as smacking of neutrality nonsense."
After the Vance-Francois-Poncet talks an official on Mr. Vance's plane noted that events have not overtaken the Hartman speech as a result of the talks.
Information about the Vance-Francois-Poncet discussions was closely held by both sides pending Mr. Vance's Feb. 22 departure from Europe after completion of his bilateral talks with his West German, Italian, French, and British counterparts.
According to preliminary indications, however, the Paris stop was scheduled primarily to please the West German go-betweens and to avoid giving Moscow an exaggerated impression of US-French disunity.
Beyond the US-French tensions arising out of French nationalism there are specific differences on high-technology exports to the Soviet Union and an Olympics boycott. There are also hints of differences on Europe-Arab relations.
The export issue involves disagreement between the US and France about what constitutes high technology. Both agree that sophisticated electronics should not be exported to the Soviet Union. But the US classifies some current French exports of computers or components to the Soviet union as high technology, while the French do not.
On the Olympics boycott the nine foreign ministers of the European Community nations split 8 to 1 at their meeting in Rome. All except, France were ready to recommend a boycott, diplomats said.
Little information is available so far on approaches the EC would like to make to the Muslim world. But the French daily Le Monde reported Feb. 21 the Nine have wanted to hold a European-Arab foreign ministers' conference. The hangup so far has been the question of how to include the Palestine Liberation Organization in such a conference, Le Monde reported.
At lower levels PLO representatives are included in an integrated Arab delegation, but this sort of ambigious finesse is impossible at the foreign ministers' level.
The U.S. according to State Department officials, is not averse to a separate European-Arab dialogue, but it wants to be sure that any initiatives do not undermine the Egypt-Israeli accords.
Differences still remain between the US and its strongest European ally, West Germany. A major point of difference concerns preferential credits for trade with the USSR. West Germany holds that its credits are not subsidies, but only "entitlements." The US considers them guarantees, or the equivalent of subsidized loans.
In the US-German relationship, the agreement on the necessity for making the Russians pay for their invasion of Afghanistan for outweighs the specific differences. In the US-French relationship the conceptual disagreement exacerbates the tactical differences.