Mr. Shultz's Saturday seminars

There is probably less than meets the eye in the Saturday seminars the new United States secretary of state, George Shultz, has been holding. Nothing has come out of them to indicate any sudden or major shift in US foreign policy.

But it is worth noting that at the first, which was billed as a study session on the Middle East, those present included Henry A. Kissinger, a person whose views were unsolicited so long as Alexander Haig occupied the chair of secretary of state.

Add that when another weekend seminar was held last Saturday those present included Helmut Sonnenfeldt, who was a longtime deputy to Dr. Kissinger and a person widely regarded as an expert in Soviet-US affairs.

The two seminars were not occasions for hearing pre-Reagan foreign policy presented without challenge. At both sessions Mr. Shultz invited in leading members and advocates of existing orthodox Reagan-era foreign policy.

For example, Mr. Sonnenfeldt played an important role in the evolution of what came to be called the policy of ''detente'' between the US and the Soviet Union. It may be assumed that he presented to the new secretary of state the argument that ''detente'' has been unfairly abused and maligned and that it still has some merits which should be reviewed by the current administration.

But present to argue against him were Caspar Weinberger, current secretary of defense, James Buckley, State Department counselor, and Richard Burt, State Department assistant secretary for European affairs. These three are regarded in the foreign policy community as being staunch anti-detentists. Mr. Weinberger has been the most influential person in the administration for a hard-line policy toward the Soviets. He opposes East-West trade and led in the effort to prevent the building of the pipeline to carry Siberian natural gas to Western Europe.

The importance of the meetings does not, therefore, lie in the idea that a change in policies is in the making, but merely in the fact that those who made policy in the pre-Reagan era are being brought back into policy discussions. Mr. Shultz is exposing himself to the points of view of those who made pre-Reagan foreign policy.

The fact that one Reagan policy has already been abandoned does not necessarily mean that others will be abandoned. The change is decisive in Far East policy. The original Reagan intention was to continue the arming of Taiwan as a potential threat to mainland China. In the latest agreement signed with mainland China Mr. Reagan has promised to taper off the arming of Taiwan.

Under the new agreement Taiwan will retain powerful defensive capability but will gradually lose the capability of taking that offensive against the mainland on which its army has been nourished since it left China 32 years ago.

Mr. Shultz has not had a seminar on China policy. That change of policy must have been decided upon at the White House before he took over from his predecessor in mid-July. But several other policies are inevitably under question because of recent events.

Most urgent of course is Mideast policy. Will the US allow Israel to continue a policy of territorial expansion? Or will the Reagan administration revive the Camp David process and insist that Israel honor its promise at Camp David to allow the Arabs of the occupied territories to enjoy self-rule and political autonomy?

More important for the long-term future, will the Reagan administration continue to pursue policies toward Moscow which are unacceptable to the NATO allies? The alternative would be to restore a first priority in policymaking to the NATO alliance and pursue toward Moscow only such policies as enjoy the support of the European allies.

The fact that Mr. Shultz has listened to Dr. Kissinger and Mr. Sonnenfeldt proves only that Mr. Shultz is aware of pre-Reagan policies at variance with Reagan policies and that he is willing to hear those pre-Reagan policies explained once again. Having listened he may elect to stay as much as possible with the low priority for NATO, and the anti-Soviet and pro-Israel themes which have so far been the main features of Reagan-era policy.

But there is a difference. Until Mr. Shultz arrived at the State Department the earlier policies were simply ignored. Mr. Shultz is opening his own mind. But that does not necessarily mean that the White House would accept more changes, even if presented.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.