United States officials have taken a strong message to drug producing and trafficking nations in Asia and Europe: The US is serious about breaking the drug trade.
A Reagan administration team, headed by Attorney General William French Smith , wound up 22 days of high-level talks on international narcotics trafficking during a seven-nation tour with mixed impressions of the drug enforcement efforts being taken by other countries.
Enforcement efforts were reassuring in France but disappointing in Italy, said an official close to Mr. Smith. In Hong Kong, authorities listened attentively to the US delegation's ideas for tracking down drug money, then politely explained how such a program would be harmful to their economy, which thrives on a largely unregulated financial market.
On a stop in Thailand, home to a large part of the ''Golden Triangle'' drug trade, US officials found Thai authorities serious about hunting down drug traffickers, despite difficult problems. ''The (Thai) government has troops going after traffickers even in remote, inaccessible areas, but they are doing nothing to eradicate the problem with crop substitution,'' said Frank Mullen, head of the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). ''The government is afraid of offending the people in the mountains. . . .''
As a result of this trip, the US is giving higher priority to encouraging cooperation between Thailand and Burma, since many of the traffickers the Thai government does track down merely slip across the border into safety in Burma.
In Pakistan, the problems were the reverse of those in Southeast Asia. ''They were showing superb results of crop reduction, but not doing anything to smash the traffic rings,'' Mullen said.
DEA intelligence reveals that the nature of the heroin traffic problem in Pakistan has changed in the past year. Instead of exporting morphine base to be refined later in Sicily, the heroin now is refined in Pakistan. It is flown directly into various cities in the US, thereby bypassing the Cosa Nostra. The operation is not yet well developed, however; the Pakistanis do not yet have a distribution network of the magnitude of the Cosa Nostra's. But so far this year , Pakistan has seized more than a ton of heroin leaving the country.
Mullen personally observed five of the 26 refining laboratories the DEA has located in Pakistan - all in the tribal areas of the North-West Frontier Province. ''The government contends it has no jurisdiction in the tribal areas and cannot go in after the labs. But we made it clear they better start,'' he said.
Italian authorities were at pains to emphasize how they had smashed eight heroin laboratories in recent years, arrested 8,750 persons on drug-related charges, and seized 192 kilograms of heroin already this year. But, these results are sadly offset, the Americans say, by bureaucratic rivalry among the three branches of police involved in drug enforcement - the Carabinieri, the Squadran Mobile, and the Guardia di Finanze - which report to separate ministers and jealously guard any investigation they are pursuing even from one another.
In a Rome press conference, Attorney General Smith stressed coordination, communication, and better use of resources, ''as became evident during my meetings with Italian officials. Italian and American officials recognize that narcotics trafficking - particularly by organized criminal enterprises - is a serious menace to both our societies,'' he said.
The two countries signed a treaty of mutual assistance in criminal matters, which, Mr. Smith said, ''should be particularly useful in narcotics cases.'' He also signed an extradition protocol, which he hopes will be the first step toward a new extradition treaty between the two countries.