Europe to US: get your foreign-policy act together. Leaders of Europe urged to compensate for American weakness

Exasperation, some relief, and determination to get on with the foreign-policy agenda. These mark the European reaction to the Tower Commission report. ``How long can we bear the American political system!'' rhetorically asked one West German military officer who deals with the politics of security issues.

He was referring to the propensity of Washington to become immobilized in foreign policy for a year or so before every presidential election - and to the potential extension of inertia to two years this time around because of the Iran affair.

``We want a strong president,'' a West German Foreign Ministry spokesman said flatly.

``Anything that weakens the United States doesn't please us. We hope the whole thing will end quickly for the United States,'' agreed a French official.

``Nobody here believes that any European leader can step into Reagan's shoes while he temporarily cannot function,'' said a British official.

He expressed some relief that President Reagan wasn't implicated more seriously in authorization of the Iran fiasco in the Tower report, and he endorsed the hope that US leadership might resume in order to avoid foreign-policy drift in the next two years.

In an editorial on ``the weakened presidency'' the Financial Times of London called for more European leadership to compensate for current US weakness.

``On the major foreign-policy issues of the day, it is time that Mrs. Margaret Thatcher and [West German Chancellor] Helmut Kohl ceased acting like Presidential moons and started generating some independent light of their own,'' the editorial asserted.

Specifically, it urged European leaders to come up with the kinds of initiatives on the Middle East and world debt that are missing in today's Washington.

So sensitive is this subject in transatlantic relations that the British diplomat went to considerable lengths to deny that endorsement by the European Community of a Mideast peace conference proposed by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev a week ago had anything ``whatsoever to do with what is going on in Washington.''

On what they see as the most crucial issue of all, arms control, the Europeans are keeping their fingers crossed about the final impact of the Iran-contra affair.

The British official said, ``There's something to be said for the view that the way the US negotiating team is handling the talks in Geneva [is] insulated ... from the turbulence in Washington.''

The remarks reflected widespread European concern that arms control hard-liners - who have been freed from ordinary policy discipline in recent months by Washington's preoccupation with the Iran affair - seem to have had a free hand in the administration since late January. They also reflected, though, the common hope that the American negotiators themselves and administration moderates may have just narrowly managed to keep the negotiating options open.

Very privately, European diplomats hope for the quick resignation of top aide Donald Regan after his censure by the Tower report. They regard him as a man who knows and cares little about foreign policy and who bars professionals in foreign policy like Secretary of State George Shultz from access to the President.

On one very specific issue - trade - the Europeans are especially glad that Reagan was not damaged more than he was in the Tower report. So far, Reagan has generally held the line against the push for protectionism by Congress.

French press coverage also highlighted the lack of professionalism of the US administration in being unable to prevent the leak of its secret arms sales to Iran and the contras. Even a left-wing writer such as Marc Kravetz headlined his editorial in the newspaper Lib'eration: ``Everything is permitted except failure.''

Monitor writer William Echikson contributed to this report from Paris.

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