AS European Community ministers meet today for an 11th-hour review of ongoing international trade-liberalization talks, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe says American intransigence makes him ``not at all optimistic'' that an accord can be reached by a Dec. 15 deadline.
In a meeting with American journalists on Friday, Mr. Juppe described disagreements over the seven-year-old Uruguay Round of trade talks as a ``formidable cactus'' in relations between France and the United States, and the recent lack of progress was largely the result of a US ``refusal to negotiate.''
The minister's blunt words toward the US preceded today's EC meeting where the Community's chief trade negotiator, Sir Leon Brittan, is to deliver a report that faults stonewalling by the US and Japan for a lack of recent progress in the talks. Earlier, French President Francois Mitterrand characterized the negotiations as an ``American diktat.''
Sir Leon's report comforts the French perspective that it is American ``intransigence'' on such sensitive issues as farm and cultural-products trade that threatens to torpedo any accord. Until now that position has found little support among France's EC partners.
Some analysts, noting that the US has described the EC's position in similarly critical terms, say the hardening language is partly a negotiating tactic as the 115-nation, highly publicized talks enter their final stretch.
BUT by calling his first meeting with American journalists since assuming the ministry in April, Juppe appeared to want to accomplish two things: send Washington a clear signal that Paris is no longer on the defensive; and lay the groundwork for blaming the US, thereby reducing damaging anti-French sentiment among EC countries if the negotiations under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) end in failure.
Juppe said that on four principal sections of the GATT talks where the EC has ``in some cases made significant offers'' - market access, agriculture, audio-visual products, and creation of a world trade organization - the US has offered ``nothing.''
Rebuffing suggestions that Germany and Britain, both longtime supporters of a successful GATT conclusion, might pin responsibility on France for the talks' failure, the minister said, ``Solidarity among the 12 [EC members] is actually growing stronger. The attitude of the US is resoldering the 12.''
Juppe said he detected a ``greater openness'' in the Clinton administration to new ideas in other areas of transatlantic interest, especially security, but he said the GATT differences are making progress in other areas ``impossible.''
The US idea of an enlarged ``partnership'' between NATO and certain East European countries has a ``certain sense,'' he said, even though it might disappoint countries such as Poland or the Czech Republic, which are seeking full membership. He said premature membership might lead to a ``reconstitution of two blocs,'' one built around the Atlantic alliance and the other around Russia, and he described such an eventuality as a ``risk to be avoided.''