West Europe angry over airliner but reluctant to retaliate
London — President Reagan will find it extremely difficult to extract from Western Europe any coordinated, concrete sanctions against Moscow for the shooting down of the Korean airliner near Sakhalin Island.
On the one hand, European opinion condemns the Soviet action and calls for an explanation, an apology, investigations, compensation, and assurances it cannot happen again.
But on the other, the impression that emerges from Monitor soundings in London, Paris, Brussels, Bonn, and Rome is that Europe intends to avoid going further and imposing any such sanctions as banning Aeroflot fights from the Soviet Union.
In fact, President Reagan won private praise from many Europeans Tuesday because his televised speech the night before in Washington struck a more moderate tone than they had expected and included no specific, broad-brush calls for European sanctions.
So US diplomats negotiating across Europe for concerted action against Aeroflot face an uphill task.
The Reagan administration says it is ''the Soviet Union against the rest of the world.'' But the rest of the world that is European is wary.
Europeans contacted by the Monitor felt that sanctions against Aeroflot would not really hurt the Soviets but would hurt Western governments if the Soviets retaliated. They recalled vain Reagan efforts to ban supplies to the Soviet natural gas pipeline by European subsidiaries of US companies and asked why Europe should be expected once again to take action at US request.
Currently, 12 Western airlines, including Japan Airlines, go in and out of Moscow each week. One of them, Finnair, will not join in any boycott because of Finland's treaty obligations to its Soviet neighbor.
It would take only a handful of the others to refuse to block Aeroflot for any hope of seriously hurting Soviet activities to be thwarted.
The three key nations are West Germany, France, and Britain, who take the bulk of Aeroflot flights to Europe. The Germans take 11 flights a week (and have 10 Lufthansa flights.) The French take five (and have five Air France flights) and the British take five (including one from Leningrad) and have five British Airways flights.
The editor of the weekly newspaper Die Zeit in Hamburg, Theo Sommer, doubts that the government of Chancellor Helmut Kohl will go as far as suspending Aeroflot flights. It will certainly not do so alone, despite its rhetorical support of Mr. Reagan.
Any suspension would lead to retaliation against Lufthansa, ''and there's a natural reluctance on the part of our business people to lose business,'' he said in an interview.
''The Kohl government is more willing than the Schmidt one to appear rhetorically pliant to the Americans, but. . .''
A spokeman for Chancellor Kohl Sept. 6 called the Reagan speech ''measured'' and ''responsible,'' but Foreign Minister Hans Dietrich Genscher emphasizes that economic sanctions are not effective.
An informed airline source in London made a similar point: ''If we close Heathrow airport to Aeroflot, the Soviets will retaliate against the British Airways flights to Moscow, and possibly against its flights to Warsaw and Bucharest. That means jobs and money lost. . . .''
Speaking at the European Security Conference in Madrid, Foreign Secretary Sir Geoffrey Howe said Tuesday that Britain would ''consider'' any requests to block Aeroflot flights, but he made no commitments.
An Air France spokesman in Paris refused comment on the Korean airliner, but did go on to tell Monitor contributor William Echikson that in general, sanctions ''won't work.''
In Brussels, Belgian Foreign Minister Leo Tindemans said any actions his government might take would probably be ''symbolic and moral'' - wording that Monitor contributor David Fouquet suggests indicates little prospect of a ban on the two Aeroflot flights a week that go in and out of Brussels airport.
In Rome, the Craxi government has echoed the condemnatory rhetoric of most other governments. But Monitor contributor Janet Stobart reports an unwillingness to do anything that might cost Alitalia routes or money at a time of recession and industrial strikes.
What Europeans want is that the Geneva talks on medium-range missiles and the Madrid talks on European security and human rights remain unimpeded by the airliner affair.
They agree that the attack on Korean Air Lines flight 007 was tragic, unnecessary, and appallingly brutal. They largely accept the US, Japanese, and Korean versions of what happened.
Sir Geoffrey Howe speaks for many Europeans when he calls for condemnation by the United Nations Security Council, and investigations by the International Civil Aviation Organization in Montreal and the Chicago Convention and Air Navigation Commission.
But the West Europeans value trade with the Soviet bloc, fear retaliation, and see little practical that can be done in the wake of sanctions already applied at the time of Afghanistan and Poland.