French Foreign Minister Jean Francois-Poncet angrily responded today to U.S. criticism of Monday's Franco-Soviet summit by saying that his country "doesn't need anyone's authorization" to talk to "whomever it wants to, whenever it wants to."
Francois-Poncet's comments came in answer to Secretary of State Edmund Muskie's complaint that he had not been told of the impending Warsaw summit between French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing and Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev when Muskie and Francois-Poncet met last Friday in Vienna.
In a speech from the tribune of the French National Assembly today, Francois-Poncet said, "The President of the French Republic does not need the permission of the president of the United States to go out of doors."
The foreign minister said that France's allies had not been informed earlier of the meeting because of "unfortunate precedents" in which leaks from Washington had "altered the character" of other meetings. He was referring to a foreign ministers' meeting in Bonn to coordinate Western strategy on Afghanistan that France wound up boycotting.
The French minister confirmed that it was France's intention to put an end to the diplomatic quarantine of the Soviet Union since its invasion of Afghanistan.
"France considers that seeking to isolate the Soviets would constitute a serious political mistake," he said. He added that isolating the Soviets would create the risk of "driving international relations into a cycle of misunderstandings and of throwing ourselves into the potentially fatal and blind grinding away of machinery."
Speaking for the Gaullist party, Giscard's increasingly restive partner in government, Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Maurice Couve de Murville delivered an understated but scathing critique of the Warsaw summit.
Couve asked why a new session with the Soviets was needed since Francois-Poncet himself had noted that both participants already knew each other's views. Couve called the summit "an unjustified improvisation."
Couve said that Francois-Poncet had still not explained whether the idea for the meeting came from the French or the Soviets and argued that the Soviets now found that they could not easily extricate themselves from Afghanistan, creating a grave international problem.
The government used a special procedure to confine parliamentary debate to Couve's response. The Gaullist was applauded by a number of uneasy Giscardist deputies.
In the assembly corridors, another former Gaullist minister was mistrustful of Communist leader Georges Marchais' praise for Giscard's trip.
"I get very suspicious when I hear Georges Marchais talk about independence," the deputy said.
The negative Gaullist reactions seemed to make it unlikely that government attempts to answer U.S. and other criticisms with appeals to French nationalism would erase a general chorus of critical comment from all sides but the Communists.
Francois-Poncet's attack on Muskie seemed designed to capitalize on the traditional anti-American reflexes of many in France.
"France," the minister said, "conducts an independent foreign policy. It holds talks with whoever it wants to, whenever it wants to."
Francois-Poncet recalled that Muskie had said after his meeting with Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko in Vienna last week that their conversation had been "useful and even necessary" although it had not produced positive results.
"Why is it that what is rightly considered useful and necessary when it comes to Mr. Muskie and Mr. Gromyko should become harmful and superfluous when it comes to the president of the republic and Mr. Brezhnev?" Francois-Poncet asked.
Francois-Poncet arrived unannounced in Bonn Tuesday night to brief Chancellor Helmut Schmidt on the Warsaw talks. He said that the West German leader would make his recently announced trip to Moscow "in the coming weeks."
It is expected to follow the European Community summit in Venice in late June. Giscard is scheduled to make his first full-fledged state visit to West Germany before mid-July. He is apparently going out of his way to put his West German partner back into the picture after angering the West Germans by upstaging Schmidt with his own Brezhnev meeting.
The chancellor is the only Western leader to have expressed publicly satisfaction with Giscard's talks in Warsaw. Privately, however, West German officials are expressing extreme annoyance.
Francois-Poncet can also be expected to mend his fences with Muskie rapidly. The French minister is scheduled to give a commencement address at his alma mater, Wesleyan University in Connecticut, on May 29. Muskie and Francois-Poncet had agreed when they met in Vienna that Francois-Poncet would come to Washington to see the secretary of state on May 30.
However, French officials have been saying that they think Muskie is acting more like an American politician concerned with domestic affairs than with foreign policy. French sources said they were struck that Muskie used domestic political arguments, such as the need to prevent a backlash against Europe in the United States, rather than arguing the merits of the cases with Francois-Poncet.
The French say that their minister replied that France also has domestic problems to consider.
Many veteran observers here believe that Giscard trip to Warsaw goes a long way toward solving his problem of getting reelected next year. The government's own polls had reportedly showed that Giscard was in trouble and could lose to a Socialist challenger. Giscard has appeared to be running scared.
The Warsaw summit has probably insured that Giscard can at least count on the benign neutrality of the French Communist Party next year. Without solid Communist backing in the runoff, a Socialist would have great difficulty in being elected unless the candidate could pick up enough unhappy Gaullist voters to compensate for the losses, inflicted by the Communist leadership.