Edmund S. Muskie, in his first Washington news conference as secretary of state, criticized France in unusually strong terms yesterday for staging a sudden summit meeting with the Soviet Union without consulting the western allies.
Such action is not conductive, he declared, "to the kind of mutual confidence and consultation which we all seemed to agree last week was essential to allied solidarity and unity."
Without mentioning him by name, Muskie made clear his particular irritation with French Foreign Minister Jean Francois-Poncet, who is reported to have lectured the new U.S. secretary in Vienna last Friday morning about the importance of advance consultation of major diplomatic enterprises.
Francois-Poncet did not reveal that French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing was secretly planning a summit meeting in Poland with Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev. Giscard himself did not reveal his plan when President Carter telephoned him last Thursday to discuss the Moscow Olympics, according to U.S. sources.
"I'm concerned that when I was being given a lecture on consultation, the lecturer was not inclined to practic what he was preaching," said Muskie yesterday. He described a French-Soviet summit meeting as "a proper subject for consultations" and added that for him, consultation is "a two-way street."
Asked what effect the Giscard-Brezhnev session might have on East-West relations, Muskie replied archly, "Until I have a report from whatever sources are interested in reporting to us on what took place at that meeting, it's difficult to answer that question."
Official sources said the United States turned down an offer from Giscard, in a message to Carter last Saturday, to send a special emissary to Washington with a briefing on the talks with Brezhnev. To accept such a mission would seem to underscore the importance of the French-Soviet summit and thus be undesirable, in the U.S. view.
In Paris yesterday, Giscard briefed U.S. Ambassador to France Arthur A. Harman for 45 minutes on the meeting with the Soviet leader. After the session, Hartman said he would report immediately to Carter.
It seemed unlikely that Giscard's briefing would repair the strained relations between Washington and Paris that have been ascribed in part, as Muskie did yesterday, to the French determination to appear to have an independent policy.
"It is frustrating at times, and even more," Muskie said. A previously planned "private" trip to the United States at the end of next week by Francois-Poncet will provide a chance to clear the air with Muskie.
Muskie's voluble style at the news conference was far different from the sparse language of his predecessor, Cyrus R. Vance. The new secretary made the distinction that "I am a politician" who has had to learn to articulate positions to constituents, "and I think that gives me a little different approach to the job than others."
If he does nothing else in office, Muskie said, he hopes to give a clearer perception to the American people of the objectives, values and possible options of U.S. foreign policy.
"I an not laboring under my illusion that I am a miracle man, nor that the problems as complex as so many of these can be quickly resolved simply because I am a new face or a new figure, however unexpected or unanticipated my arrival on the scene was," he said.
Despite his long years in political life, including campaigns for president and vice president, Muskie was visibly tense and uneasy in his new role, especially near the beginning of the news conference. He began to relax as the session wore on.
Except for the blunt remarks about the French -- the sort of irritation with allies that Vance usually avoided expressing, even when deeply felt -- Muskie broke little new ground.
He took a cautious public position regarding the disorders in South Korea, where the civilian government resigned yesterday after military leaders took power under total martial law.
Muskie expressed "deep concern that [South Korea] is moving away from liberalization policies which I think are essential to its long-term political health." He called on al elements of Korean society to exercise restraint, and asked those in authority to move back in the direction of political liberalization.
"I realize that I could make a stronger statement" but it would not be useful at the moment, Muskie said.
On other subjects, Muskie said:
There was no change in the Soviet position on Afghanistan in last Friday's meeting with Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko, nor is there a U.S. decision yet whether further meetings with Gromyko would be useful.
He said he sought to make clear to Gromyko that it is "a fact of life" -- not a precondition or bargaining "linkage" -- that the invasion of Afghanistan had put ratification of the stratetic arms limitation treaty (SALT II) beyond reach at the present time. If the Russians are "truly interested" in detente and arms control they will take this into consideration, he said.
The United States is seeking to pursue release of the American hostages in Iran both through sanctions, which keep the pressure on Tehran, and through the search for "diplomatic initiatives" via indirect channels rather than "obvious American surrogates." He did not name the preferred channels.
The economic sanctions adopted by the European nations at Naples last weekend" are a positive act of support" for the United States even though Muskie conceded they did not go as far as the allies previously agreed. t
The Egyptian-Israeli negotiations on Palestinian autonomy hold a better promise of solving the issues at hand than any other process that has been proposed, even though the major outstanding questions will not be settled by the May 26 target date.
Further light may be shed on the status of the negotiations with the arrival in Washington today of Mustafa Khalil, who was Egyptian prime minister until the last cabinet shakeup by President Anwar Sadat last week. Khalil is in the United States on a private visit.