Picture, Soviet Foreign Minister Gromkyo: France practices "detente without zigzagis.", By Douglas Chevalier - The Washington Post
Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromkyo put an end this week to a long period of cool relations between France and the Soviet Union in an apparent effort to counteract China's drive to establish broad ties with the West.
At a press conference yesterday at the imposing new Soviet embassy next door to the former headquarters of NATO, Gromkyo described his three-day visit here as having "confirmed the privileged relations" between France and the Soviet Union.
"I want to stress the word privileged," said Gromkyo.
The French expressed pleasant surprise that Gromyko had not even made a big issue of French plans to sell China a large quantity of "defensive" arms.
What seems notable about the Gromyko visit is that while it comes at a moment when the French are not engaged in any major operations to which the Soviets can object. France has not fundamentally changed any of the policies that brought months of tense relations. In fact, France has not appeared as such a close partner of the United States in world affairs since DeGaulle returned to power in 1958.
The Soviets are assiduously suggesting that Paris has a more acceptable approach to East-West detente than Washington. An article destributed by the Soviet Embassy before Gromyko's arrival was headlined, "Moscow-Paris, an Axis of Detente." It spoke of Franco-Soviet relations as a model of peaceful coexistence between states with different systems, noting that the differences "will continue to predetermine a certain non-coincidence in the positions of the U.S.S.R. AND France in foreign policy. But the things which unite them are moer important."
"France," said Gromyko in a toast here this week, "practices a policy of detente without zig-zags." The clear implication was that others, that is to say the Americans, cannot be depended on to follow a straigth line.
It was only a few months ago that Soviet diplomats in Paris were saying that by its military actions against Cuban and Soviet-backed offensives in Africa, France had forfeited its position as the privileged partner in Europe for the continuing dialogue on detente. When Soviet-President Leonid Brezhnev visited West Germany early this summer, the Soviets were suggesting that Bonn, long attacked by Moscow as the center of anti-Soviet designs in Europe, could take [WORD ILLEGIBLE] of Paris in Soviet affections.
Brezhnev sent French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing what Soviet sources described as a sharp message after the French Foreign Legion was parachuted into Zaire to beat back anti-Western rebels. Giscard replied with public criticisms of Soviet violations of human rights.
The tension only started to ease after France sent a diplomatic mission headed by Guy Georgy, the Foreign Ministry's influential African affairs director to explain that French military actions on several fronts were pinpointed to defend French interests and that the French had no intention of becoming America's Cubans in Africa.
There was a moment of bad feeling between Paris and Washington when Andrew Young, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, publicly accused France of doing just what it had told Moscow it was doing: acting in the French interest rather than in the general interest of the West.
Young's outburst provoked a formal French protest, and was met by a number of private comments to the effect that the French had known for a long time that Young did not understand much about African realities anyway.
This also coincided with the comment in the entourage of Giscard that with its Jaguar jets striking against other Soviet-backed rebels is Chad and Mauritania. France was succeeding in bombing its adversaries in Africa to the negotiating table just as Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon did when they bombed North Vietnam's Haiphong harbor to bring the Hanoi government into peace talks.
The French actions brought cries of outrage from leftist governments in Africa, but those governments immediately turned around to do business with France. Algeria, for instance, spoke of the soil of Africa being soaked with blood spilled by France and then sent its foreign minister to Paris to talk about how to end the war in Mauritania and the western Sahara.
Whatever the motivations of the French actions, they appear finally to have achieved in Washington what years of public hectoring by De Gaulle never achieved: The Americans are finally taking France seriously as a foreign policy partner. Having proved in Africa that they could be useful in performing missions the Americans were in no position to undertake, the French became a serious partner for the United States in the Middle East as well. As a top Lebanese official put it, "Washington has more or less designated France as the Western counterpart for Lebanon."
If only because the Gaullists, with their continued instinctive distrust of Americans, are still the largest element in Giscard's parliamentary majority, the French president's cooperation with the United States must always be presented as having been independently conceived. This create definte limits, but makes French cooperation with Washington far more useful when it occurs, which is only when it serves the test of serving French interests too.
Unlike De Gaulle - who always seemed to leave American officials wondering if his cooperation, when it did occur, was not a prelude to finding a new way to tweak Uncle Sam's beard - Giscard has gone out of his way to act as a loya partner. When he opposes the United States, he always seems to convey the message that he is being a loyal opponent, and opposes Washington only on a specific issue.
France is apparently an attractive partner for the United States, not just because it can do certain things the United States cannot. It is also because with the weak image the Carter administration still projects, underlined by the weakness of the dollar in the international exchange markets, Giscard appears as the West's most stable leader.
The French president has the prospect of 10 more years of uninterrupted power. Giscard's reinforced domestic position has also reshuffled the deck in Europe. Britain, America's traditional partner in Europe's dominant economic power, is still a divided country that is not free to conduct a global foreign policy.
The fact that Washington is now treating Paris seriously again may go far to explain why the Soviet Union seems to have chosen to ignore its continuing arguments with the French and to restore warm ties.
As an Eastern European diplomat recently said, "Everything the Russians do these days is related to their overriding obsession with China." If that is true, the Soviets need to secure their rear area in Europe, against a China that has finally normalized its relations with Japan, and any country that is playing a significant role in Europe can expect the Soviets to come courting.
Gromyko's visit to France could even strengthen Giscard's hand as a partner of the United States. If the Soviets tell the world they have "privileged" relations with France, it becomes very difficult for the Gaullists to accuse Giscard of serving as President Carter's handmaiden.