ALL other things being equal, it is better for any two members of the club of nations to be on civil terms than not. Thus the deal between France and New Zealand over disposition of two French secret service agents convicted of manslaughter in the Greenpeace affair is to be welcomed. In the July 1985 incident the environmental activists' ship Rainbow Warrior was blown up in Auckland Harbor under French government orders and a Dutch photographer aboard killed. The episode had severely strained relations between the two countries.
Under terms of a deal worked out by UN Secretary-General Javier P'erez de Cu'ellar, France will pay New Zealand $7 million and France will receive custody of the agents. In accordance with Mr. P'erez de Cu'ellar's recommendation, the agents are to serve three years on a French military base on Hao, a Pacific atoll.
The French are formally to apologize for their actions, which will no doubt be a bracing experience for them. The French have also agreed not to block the import into the European Community of New Zealand mutton, goat meat, and butter.
The Greenpeace affair was not one of France's finest hours. Indeed it brought down Defense Minister Charles Hernu -- albeit because the French agents had been captured by the New Zealanders, and not because of a French national consensus that the peacetime sinking of an unarmed civilian ship was simply not to be done.
One could argue that the French agents are being, in effect, sent back to the brier patch. They will live normal garrison life and can be joined by their families. On the other hand, as New Zealand Prime Minister David Lange told the New York Times, Hao is ``certainly not your Broadway.''
Both countries have expressed their satisfaction with the settlement, which is certainly a plus for the UN. Greenpeace, which is pursuing its own claims against the French, has said that New Zealand's acceptance of the deal is understandable and that it had no objection to the transfer of the French agents.
Let us hope the two countries move forward with the Greenpeace affair behind them, and that France's relations with New Zealand and other countries will be governed more by the rule of law.