European allies are deeply concerned about what they see as an essentially negative United States attitude toward next month's Reagan-Gorbachev summit in Geneva. With regard to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's recent proposals and overture toward the West, Paris, Bonn, Rome, and London don't find themselves on the same wavelength as Washington.
In New York Oct. 24 at a NATO summit reunion, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl are expected to press President Reagan to put his Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) on the negotiating table when he meets Mr. Gorbachev.
Although US Secretary of State George Shultz told allied foreign ministers in Brussels on Tuesday that the US would stick to ``a narrow interpretation'' of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, top West Europeans say they were not really persuaded that the US firmly held this position.
They say they suspect that Mr. Reagan, at some point, may switch back to what Robert McFarlane, the President's national security adviser, called a ``wider interpretation'' of the treaty -- one that would allow not only research but testing of space weapons. On Wednesday, Richard Perle, the assistant secretary of defense, said that the broader interpretation might be set aside in the future to allow for wider research, development, and testing of SDI (popularly known as ``star wars.'')
Recent US zigzagging -- with various US officials making contradictory statements on this issue -- have left West Europeans ``very anxious,'' as senior West German, Dutch, Belgian, French, and British diplomats admit in private.
``Shultz spoke soothing words in Brussels but failed to dispel the malaise among European NATO partners. The feeling among us is that he simply made a tactical retreat to avoid giving the impression, four weeks before the Geneva summit, that the alliance is not firmly behind the United States. It is not inconceivable that just before the `summit' the US may harden its position again with regard to `star wars' and thus block any possible progress on arms limitations,'' says a well-placed Dutch source.
``What are we to believe when we hear national security adviser Robert McFarlane speak in favor of a wide interpretation of the ABM treaty, George Shultz mention a narrow interpretation, and President Reagan declare in Milwaukee that the US will not bargain the reasearch and testing program known as SDI?'' one analyst asks.
Basically West Europeans remain favorable to the policy of d'etente provided the Soviet Union pays the right price for it. At the same time there is a widespread feeling in West European capitals that the Reagan administration does not really want to strike a deal with Gorbachev and is irrevocably commited to ``star wars.''
The consensus of highly-placed West European sources is that, despite periodic kind words directed toward Washington's Western allies, the influence these allies have on US policy toward the Soviet Union is and will remain minimal.
``We are at the crossroads. Gorbachev wants to make communism work in the Soviet Union. He wants to avoid a new and costly arms race. He realizes that his predecessors have cheated and tried, during the 1970s, to give their country the advantage, militarily. He seems to be willing to return in this respect to Square 1 and to settle for half a loaf.
``Now we West Europeans backed Reagan inasmuch as we saw him as trying to restore the proper balance between East and West and thus make way for a new and credible d'etente. If Reagan is out for some kind of superiority over the Soviets or if his SDI is aimed at restoring US technological superiority of the Japanese, then he must count us out,'' a West European Kremlinologist, echoing many of his colleagues, says.