France protests events in Poland -- from the sidelines

France has responded to the events in Poland with extraordinary emotion, pushing its initially cautious government into becoming West Europe's main cheerleader for strong international condemnation of the imposition of martial law.

But when Foreign Minister Claude Cheysson sits down with his nine other European Community (EC) partners Jan. 4 in Brussels to discuss whether to follow America's lead in imposing economic sanctions against the Soviet Union, he will probably stay silent.

Widespread skepticism and even a new outburst of criticism of American foreign policy has followed President Reagan's call for sanctions here. The French doubt the effectiveness of any sanctions and fear losing their substantial trade with the Soviet Union, especially their part in the multibillion-dollar gas pipeline deal just signed.

The French government's position remains what Prime Minister Pierre Mauroy announced last week in parliament, Foreign Ministry spokesman Pierre Vinon said.

Mr. Mauroy condemned the takeover, demanded the restoration of freedom in Poland, and said it was evident that the Soviet Union was ''implicated'' in the action. But he did not call for any sanctions against Poland or the Soviet Union , and said that food aid would continue to Poland.

Later in the week Foreign Minister Claude Cheysson reaffirmed that decision. ''France is opposed to using food as a weapon,'' he said, adding that he welcomed an EC decision to dispatch 8 million tons of meat to Poland.

In his only public statement last week, a New Year's Eve message, President Francois Mitterrand ignored the sanction is's borders to give a huge area to the Soviet Union, and forged the spheres of influence of the East and West blocs in Europe.

''Anything that allows an escape from Yalta would be good,'' he said, repeating persistent French criticism of former United States President Roosevelt's concessions to then-Soviet premier Joseph Stalin at the conference to which Charles de Gaulle was not invited.

Other criticism of American foreign policy, unshackled by governmental caution, was stronger. Jacques Huntzinger, secretary of the Socialist Party, the dominant party in the new leftist French government, condemned the ''incoherence'' in American foreign policy in an interview with the Monitor.

''One day Reagan says he is going to meet with Brezhnev, and the next day he imposes sanctions,'' he complained.

''We know what is happening in Poland will hurt detente, but the lines to the Soviet Union must be kept open,'' he continued. ''For the moment, we think political pressure is enough.''

The respected daily Le Monde agreed. It pleaded that the American action not cause ''the death'' of the Geneva arms limitation talks and the Madrid human rights meeting.

Le Monde also questioned the efficacy of the sanctions. ''Do they really touch Soviet interest?'' it asked.

The socialist daily, Le Matin, reported that ''the best-informed Frenchmen do not take seriously the American sanctions.''

The newspaper said French officials think the Americans are trying to dupe them by banning technology trades with the Soviets, which is the main part of European commerce there, while continuing to export large amounts of American grain to Moscow.

Pointedly, Le Matin explained in a sidebar how important the 40 million cubic meters of natural gas that the Soviet pipeline is planned to carry annually to Western Europe from northwest Siberia is to European economies beset by recession and unemployment.

Along with West German companies, French firms and banks have benefited the most from the Siberian pipeline deal and will be among its most important customers when the gas begins flowing.

Earlier this month France's Thomson-Brandt confirmed signing a controversial equipment for the pipeline while Creusot-Loire, another French company, is involved with West Germany's Mannesmann in supplying the line with 22 compressor stations.

Despite France's fears about sanctions, it has been at the forefront of a diplomatic drive to coordinate international condemnation of the imposition of martial law in Poland.

While other West European neighbors, most notably West Germany, have issued moderate public comments on the events in Warsaw, public outcry in France forced the government to quickly abandon its original position that martial law was strictly an internal affair. Three days after the crackdown President Mitterrand strongly denounced the loss of civil liberties.

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