A respite for Mitterrand

WITH Francois Mitterrand beginning a week-long visit to the United States, it can be assumed that the French President will be relieved to be momentarily away from the current pell-mell political brouhaha of Europe - and among stalwart allies.

France has been beset by civil turmoil of late, including public employee and truckers strikes. And the European Common Market is now the subject of intense negotiation - particularly over the issue of agriculture, of which the heavily subsidized French farming community occupies a central role in the dispute.

So for Mr. Mitterrand, the coast-to-coast visit to the US should be a welcome respite from troubles back home. Indeed, it is a tribute to US-French relations in general, as well as discussions between Mr. Mitterrand and President Reagan in particular, that the two nations must now be considered to have an amicable and close working relationship, despite sharp ideological differences. The two governments came to office, after all, marching to divergent drummers. Mr. Mitterrand's Socialist administration took office back in 1981, adding 50,000 workers to the public payroll, nationalizing manufacturers and some private banks, and promising a larger government role in the French economy. The conservative Reagan administration, by contrast, sought to cut the public payroll, free up the business community from unnecessary governmental intrusion, and slash marginal tax rates. The two sides have also parted company over how the industrial West should deal with third-world nations. France favors more direct financial aid than does the US, and would also give third-world nations a greater voice in international economic considerations. France also argues that the US overemphasizes Soviet involvement in Central America.

Still, the two nations have stood together on most major international issues. France supported deployment of US nuclear missiles in Europe, participated in the Lebanon peacekeeping, and thwarted Libyan aims in Chad.

The Mitterrand visit is expected to be largely symbolic and to produce no major new diplomatic or other initiatives, although the Western role in Lebanon and the Middle East will be a major topic of conversation between the two Presidents. But such meetings are not to be minimized. Mr. Mitterrand's visit, it might be noted, follows by only two weeks the visit to Washington of West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl. The political benefit in such visits for any incumbent president cannot be dismissed. But given the many centrifugal forces operating in the Western alliance in past years - the squabble over the European-Soviet pipeline, for example, as well as the missile deployment and Common Market controversies - the more often the leaders of the Western allies meet together the better. A durable Atlantic alliance remains the very linchpin of America's overall foreign policy.

Meantime, all Americans will want to throw out the welcome mat for President Mitterrand. France remains one of America's oldest allies. French support was instrumental in the winning of US independence. And what American does not thrill at the sight of the Statue of Liberty, a gift from the French people? So welcome, President Mitterrand.

And vive la France.

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