At the end of his four-day visit to the Soviet Union, Fran,cois Mitterrand expressed satisfaction at the understanding and the depth of his conversations with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. But the French President remained noncommittal about the chances for a summit this year between the United States and the Soviet Union.
``Both sides want the summit,'' Mr. Mitterrand said at a press conference yesterday, but the sticking point is the content of the meeting. ``My feeling is that it will take place, but before then diplomacy has a lot of work to do.''
The major stumbling block to the summit, French officials accompanying Mitterrand have said, is the US Strategic Defense Initiative (or ``star wars,'' as it is popularly called). The officials say that during his talks last week in New York City with President Reagan, Mitterrand was struck by the ``near metaphysical'' attachment the President displayed toward SDI. In the French-Soviet talks, Mr. Gorbachev was reportedly equally forceful in his opposition to the idea. If both Moscow and Washington stick to their positions on SDI, Mitterrand says, there will be no progress on arms control.
Soviet briefings during the Mitterrand visit have been careful to stress what one official called the ``innovative and positive'' role that Europe can play in reestablishing d'etente. Gorbachev's emphasis of the European dimension of security seems to point to a possible second line of policy for Moscow: If US-Soviet relations do not move from their present deadlock, Moscow may concentrate more energy on obtaining a series of European agreements on nuclear and conventional weapons.
Official Soviet comments on the Mitterrand visit have expressed the hope that France and the Soviet Union will work together on European issues. French officials have said simply that the dialogue between Paris and Moscow will contiue even after Mitterrand returns home.
In Thursday's press conference, Mitterrand was generally careful to maintain a dispassionate attitude on East-West relations. But he did express concern at the US announcement at the end of May that it would no longer be bound by the terms of the second Stategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT II).
``Since we are speaking of disarmament, let us not begin to overarm. Since we are speaking of negotiation, let us not begin to destroy existing treaties,'' the French President said.
He had good words for some of the recent Soviet proposals on arms control. ``Gorbachev has recently laid out some quite sensational proposals'' on the reduction of both conventional and nuclear weapons, he said. France found the Warsaw Pact proposal for the reduction of conventional forces ``very interesting.''
Mitterrand's warmest words were reserved for his host.
``Gorbachev appears to me a man of his time,'' Mitterrand said. ``He sees things as they are in 1986,'' undistorted by his ideological beliefs. Gorbachev's commitment to d'etente, Mitterrand said, appears genuine, and rooted to a large degree in the need for economic growth. ``I believe that the Soviet Union really feels the need to marshal all its energies in order to master the economic crisis'' which besets it.
The visit to Moscow later this month of another European official, West German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher, will give the Soviet leadership the opportunity to intensify its push for better relations with Europe.
During the press conference, Mitterrand also expressed support for Gorbachev's idea of involving the five permanent members of the UN Security Council in efforts to restore peace in the Middle East. During Wednesday's talks, Mitterrand told the press conference, Gorbachev had suggested that the Security Council members be involved as a sort of ``preparatory committee'' for an international forum on the Middle East.
On South Africa, Mitterrand repeated France's condemnation of apartheid, South Africa's policy of racial separation, and said that his country would do ``whatever it considers right'' to help bring that policy to an end. He also confirmed that he and Gorbachev had discussed the question of terrorism, but said that the two countries did not intend to draw up any specific agreement in the subject.