The Europeans look likely to reject American calls for tougher sanctions against Libya. Officials contacted by the Monitor in London, Bonn, Rome, and Paris all are distressed by the news of a renewed American campaign against Libya. They had hoped the issue was closed last spring after several European nations reduced ties with Muammar Qaddafi's regime.
In an effort to defuse another potential alliance crisis, the Europeans are playing down the current visit of United States' special envoy Lt. Gen. Vernon Walters.
General Walters visited Europe in April, just before the US bombing raid against Libya on April 15. None of the officials contacted in the European capitals could confirm the itinerary of Walters's current trip.
For the European leaders, the Walters visit comes at a delicate moment. All face domestic challenges: West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl is beginning a general election campaign; French President Fran,cois Mitterrand is sharing power with a conservative prime minister; Italian Prime Minister Bettino Craxi soon must transfer power to his Christian Democrat allies; and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher is preparing for her Conservative Party's annual congress.
Supporting the US on Libya presents clear political dangers. Three out of five British voters disapproved of Prime Minister Thatcher's decision to permit US bombers to use British airbases for the Libyan raid. It would be difficult for her to consent to any further raids. A British Foreign Ministry official said the prime minister will be in Scotland this week and unavailable to meet with Walters.
The Europeans hope the Walters visit will serve as a general warning to Colonel Qaddafi to refrain from further acts of terrorism, not as an indication that another bombing raid is imminent. ``As far as I'm concerned, this appears to be a political rather than a military initiative,'' commented Italian Defense Minister Giovanni Spadolini.
After meeting with Spanish officials in Madrid on Monday, Walters said ``We have made no demands of the Spanish government in our discussion of several subjects, including the international struggle against terrorism throughout the world.''
Potential military preparations were discounted. A British Defense Ministry official said the dispatch of 18 US F-111 bombers to England last week ``has no relation to the recent American declarations concerning Libya.'' Although British-based F-111s led the April raid on Tripoli, the Defense Ministry official said the new squadron had arrived to take part in a long-planned NATO exercise.
Instead of planning a military action, the Europeans expect Walters to press for new economic sanctions. Particular targets are reported to be shutting down American subsidiaries in Europe that do most of their business with Libya and ending the shipment of any refined petroleum products containing Libyan oil from Europe to the US.
Europeans see such proposals as an attack on their national sovereignty. In 1981, they defied an American attempt to stop their subsidiaries from working on the trans-Siberian gas pipeline. Officials suggested that they would take the same line again. The Europeans also maintain that they already have taken tough measures against Libya.
At a meeting of European Community foreign ministers in late April, they agreed to reduce Libyan diplomatic representation on the continent, tighten Libyan visa applications, and end all military sales to Libya. These measures have reduced European diplomatic ties with Libya.
Travel and economic links also are decreasing. In 1983, the British issued 28,000 visas to Libyans; last year, the figure was cut to 3,500. Since the beginning of this year, the Italian government has reduced the number of its citizens working in Libya from 17,000 to 2,500. Last week, Italy's courts seized some Libyan assets as payment for unpaid debts on a construction project.
In the European view, further actions would not serve any real purpose. The Europeans point out that last month Libya managed to evade sanctions when it used intermediaries to purchase two wide-bodied Airbus jets equipped with US technology and engines from British Caledonian. Legal details stymied all efforts made by the US, Britain, France, and West Germany to stop the sale.
Additionally, in Europe's opinion, there is no renewed threat of Libyan terrorism. Some European officials say Qaddafi was severely shaken by the US raid and is in no position to plan new attacks.
Walters's first task will be to change this opinion. And, one skeptical French Foreign Ministry official says, ``He better bring very good proof.''
Correspondents David Winder, Janet Stobart, and Wellington Long contributed to this report.