French Socialists firm toward Kremlin
Paris — Now entrenched solidly in power in the presidency and the National Assembly, France's Socialists have embarked on a course of: * Sober firmness toward Soviet expansionism.
* A more balanced approach to the Middle East.
* A distinctly constructive reponse to the growing problems of the third world.
Despite the inclusion of four Communists in the 44-member Cabinet announced this week, President Mitterrand's forthright and European-minded foreign minister, Claude Cheysson, has made it quite clear that there is no question whatever of France receding into any form of neutralism.
Stressing the importance of the Atlantic alliance in French foreign policy, Cheysson said recently: "We may not be easy partners . . . but we will be solid partners."
In fact, Cheysson vigorously resisted the inclusion of any Communists in the Cabinet. But he was overruled by Mitterrand, who was the Communist presence as helpful in maintaining labor peace -- or at least in keeping the Communists on his side as he takes on French right in economic policy.
Now, however, cheysson will have to work hard to reassure the Western allies that the Communist tail will not wag the Socialist dog in foreign policy. He has no doubt been making precisely this point to visiting United States Vice-President George Bush, who arrived in Paris June 24, going on to London June 25.
Specific, the Socialists have come out firmly in support of US-NATO policy to deploy medium-range nuclear weapons in Western Europe. They have expressed concern over the snowballing of neutralist tendencies in the Netherlands, West Germany, and other places, and they oppose any dialogue with the Soviet Union based on a position of weakness. They would prefer to see equitable weapons reductions on both sides.
Unlike Giscard d'Estaing, who attempted to negotiate with the Soviets in Warsaw after they invaded Afghanistan, Mitterrand does not believe serious relations can be developed with Moscow as long as SS-20 missiles remain in Eastern Europe and Russian troops remain in Afghanistan. The Polish people, too , Mitterrand's government maintains, must be allowed to choose their own destiny without Soviet intervention.
On the question of the Communist minister's influence on French foreign policy, the Socialists had repeatedly stressed that communists would be included in the Cabinet only if they agreed to support Mitterrand publicly in all domestic and international issues. The Communist ministers were named only after the announcement of an agreement under which their party agreed to support a number of Socialist policies with which it previously differed, including calling for Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan and noninterference in Poland.
Cheysson's presence at the Quai d'Orsay, home of the French Foreign Ministry, is possibly Mitterrand's greatest asset in implementing France's "new style" foreign policy. Widely respected at home and abroad, Cheysson distinguished himself as European Community commissioner in Brussels in charge of relations with developing countries. As a result, not only do his views reflect a distinct "Europeanness," but also an acute sense of third- world involvement.
Officials here expect little improvement in Anglo- French relations, currently in a rocky phase, particularly over fishing and farm policies. But Franco-German ties could be excellent. And perhaps more so than before, France will also move closer to the Mediterranean countries, particularly Portugal and Italy.
In the Middle East, the Mitterrand administration has sought to adopt a more balanced approach to both Israel and the Arab countries than during the Giscard era. Although Giscard professed to have hankered after a more even policy, French energy reliance on Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and other Gulf nations helped mold what many critics, notably the French Jewish community, considered to be a distinctly pro-Arab stance.
Basically Mitterrand has taken France one step further by openly declaring his friendship for Israel. His first official visit abroad, for example, will be to Israel. But Franco-Israeli relations were jolted by the surprise attack on the Baghdad Osirak reactor.
Quai d'Orsay sources do not hide the opinion that the Middle East situation might be improved were Begin defeated in the next elections and replaced by a less intransigent Labor government -- unlikely though this may be.
While defending Israel's right to exist, France still maintains that the Tel Aviv government must withdraw from all occupied territories. Mitterrand has called for Tel Aviv to grant the Palestinians the right to a "sovereign state of their own" as well; Giscard had spoken of the need for a Palestinian "homeland."
Furthermore, the Socialists say they cannot recognize the unilateral annexation of Jerusalem by Israel.
Although France is willing to tolerate the presence of a PLO office in Paris, the Socialists emphasize that this does not mean Yasser Arafat has the right to claim himself the sole representative of the Palestinian people. "It is still too early to elaborate a definite Middle East policy," said one official. "Mitterrand realizes there is a blockage between the parties concerned. WE are also waiting to see what results EC [European Community] or American initiatives might produce. For the moment, the major problem is getting the parties concerned to talk with each other."
Commenting on the Osirak reactor and the overall question of nuclear proliferation, the Mitterrand administration has said that it will continue to sell nuclear technology for nonmilitary purposes. "What right have we to decide that certain countries should not have the right to develop [nuclear] research of their own?" Cheysson rhetorically demanded.
It still remains uncertain whether France will offer to rebuild the Baghdad complex or not. "Iraq has not approached us," he said. "So let us wait and see what the Iraqis will do, whether they will do it, in what terms and what."
But France may well feel rebuilding the reactor requires a new agreement, which the new government is likely to be reluctant to pursue.
As with Mitterrand's proposed domestic social and economic program, the new Socialist administration is also trying to provide a "new deal" for the third world.
"The Americans and Soviets always regard development in the third world from an East-West point of view," noted one Quai d'Orsay source. "The Socialists want a more North-South approach."
Calling upon his experience with EC, Cheysson is particularly interested in encouraging the West to act more generously toward the third world, Africa in particular. Warning of devastating effects in the years to come unless the West takes more constructive action, the Socialists are proposing a type of Marshall Plan for the third world. This would involve three specific characteristics:
* A guaranteed recycling of funds by the International Monetary Fund.
* Increased investments by the industrial nations.
* An increase of development assistance by the rich countries.
In general, French foreign policy in Africa will continue as before for some time to come. Analysts expect to see few major breaks for at least another year. The new administration has reassured its African partners that it will continue to respect past defence agreements. French troops and military advisers, however, will be mad e less visible.