Treasury Secretary Donald T. Regan yesterday promised that the Williamsburg economic summit next weekend would not "brush aside" French President Francois Mitterrand's call for a new global monetary conference, but warned that "a lot more discussion is needed before we get there, and I think he would agree with that."
Both Regan and Secretary of State George P. Shultz, at a joint briefing on issues likely to come up at the summit, played down the prospects for controversy at the summit.
Shultz went so far as to predict that "a strong collaborative pattern" will emerge from discussions on economic growth, protectionism, the world debt problem, and other economic issues among the seven major heads of government and the president of the European Community.
The opening session of the summit on Sunday morning, scheduled to last two and one-half hours, will be attended only by these eight. As chairman, Reagan will have the responsibility of summarizing the results of that session for Shultz and the other foreign ministers. There will be no note-takers, nor will there be tapes kept as a by-product of the multilingual translation being piped to the leaders from the next room, Undersecretary of State Allen Wallis said.
On the question of a global, or Bretton Woods-style, monetary conference--prospectively the most contentious issue before the summit--Regan declared it would be "premature" to call for "an immediate conference." In Paris two weeks ago, Mitterrand had said that such a conference was essential, and that he would propose it at Williamsburg.
Regan told reporters that "we will be interested to hear what views he presents at the summit. We've drawn no conclusions as to what we should do about his ideas, and we won't, until after we've heard the presentation by him, and have had a chance to discuss it with him." He noted that the French minister of external relations, Claude Cheysson, had said that considerable prepartion would be needed for a global conference.
Regan cited Treasury research showing there had been more than three years of preparation for the 1944 Bretton Woods conference that set up the system of fixed exchange rates, which lasted until 1971.
Regan and Shultz again indicated that the United States would not oppose further studies of how the international monetary system might be changed.
"Everyone would like to see stability in exchange markets," Shultz said yesterday. He said that "there is a pretty good opportunity to see more stable exchange markets because it may well be that underlying economic conditions may be more stable." He cited the downward course of inflation and interest rates and some signs of economic expansion in four major nations--the United States, Japan, West Germany and Great Britain.
"So we have the possibility of entering something of a new area," Shultz said.
In another bow to European perspectives on the top priorities for Williamsburg, Shultz and Regan for the first time publicly stressed that the key issue is jobs.
The initial set of White House briefing papers on the summit had mentioned "economic growth" as a top priority, but had failed to mention jobs as such.