European leaders size up Mitterrand at EC summit

"Don't worry about newspaper headlines -- the real point of this meeting is getting to know Mitterrand." This is how one senior diplomat privately viewed the new French President's first summit with other European leaders here June 29 and 30.

Mr. Mitterrand has arrived at a time of much uncertainty and fluidity in international events, ranging from the situation in Poland (where Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko is to visit shortly) to the elections in Israel.

One result: The Luxembourg summit is a forum more for discussion than for concrete decisions.

"Don't sell it short because of that," another diplomat warned. "A lot is done in private, off-the-cuff talks between leaders -- and there's time to explore Mr. Mitterrand's views in some detail."

Francois Mitterrand's very newness to office is another reason why few decisive actions are expected to emerge here. He needs time to take stock.

Nor is France the only country to lack the power to decide on foreign issues or such domestic ones as reform of the European Community budget. Almost half of the Community's 10 member states are in the same position.

In Rome, the new government of Prime Minister Giovanni Spadolini has only just been formed after complex backstage negotiations. In Dublin, the Dail (parliament) elects a new prime minister June 30, the last day of the summit, after recent elections removed the majority of Prime Minister Charles J. Haughey. In The Hague, talks drag on to try to form a new coalition government following inconclusive elections in the Netherlands.

The result is that European leaders have talked a great deal here about Mr. Mitterrand -- and asked him about the four Communists he has appointed to the Cabinet -- but have deferred action on a number of other issues until later in the year.

"Make no mistake," said a veteran ambassador from one Western country. "Those Communist Cabinet ministers now serve as an example to other countries in Europe. They make us more wary when we talk to Paris. They make the Americans more cautious. We have had Communists in the parliamentary foreign affairs committee in Rome before now, but you have to go back to 1945 before you find Communists actually sharing power.

"Mitterrand assures us all there will be no leakage of sensitive allied intelligence. We shall wait and see."

Asked what foreign affairs topic on the Luxembourg agenda he thought was most pressing, another senior diplomat said: "Afghanistan."

That is, the proposal to Moscow for a new international conference to try to negotiate a withdrawal of Soviet troops.

British sources deny they want the talks held in Islamabad, but they do not dispute reports indicating a two-stage approach. The first would involve the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (the United States , the Soviet Union, China, France, and Britain).

The second would bring in Babrak Karmal, the pro-Moscow leader in Kabul, and discuss the political situation inside Afghanistan. Whether Britain envisages formal recognition of the Karmal regime is not yet clear.

The last time a European leader suggested a conference on Afghanistan (former French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing), the Soviets simply did not reply. This time they will have to say something if the plan is endorsed by the 10 Community leaders.

The Kremlin is expected to reject it ultimately. But Britain thinks the plan useful in testing Moscow's professed willingness to talk about removing all "external interference" from Afghanistan.

Diplomats also see the move as another way of involving Moscow in considering a Western initiative at a time of rising tension over Poland.

"The Soviets know the price of invading Poland is an end to all diplomatic contacts for some time," one diplomat comments. "The British idea could remind them of this yet again."

European leaders will also discuss Polish requests for more loans but will take no collective decisions. Each government decides such policies for itself.

A long-awaited report will come on the so- called European initiative in the Middle East: an effort by the Community to influence the US and Israel to include the Palestine Liberation Organization in the peace process.

Dutch Foreign Minister Christoph van der Klaauw reported he has visited Arab capitals (where he was well received on the whole) and Israel (where he was heard without enthusiasm).

But the June 30 Israeli elections, and the need Europeans see to await clearer policy sinals from President Reagan, has caused leaders to postpone discussion until a foreign ministers' meeting in Britain in September.

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