The French government today said that its ambassador in Moscow was right in refusing to appear on Soviet television after it tried to get him to cut out a mild reference to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
French Ambassador Henri Froment-Meurice was scheduled to give the annual message to the Soviet people on Bastille Day, July 14.
The incident recalled a similar one 10 days earlier in which the Soviets tried to censor a televised statement for July 4 by U.S. Ambassador Thomas Watson Jr. He also refused to make the cuts and refused to appear under the circumstances.
"We didn't seek out an incident," said a French source. "But after what happened to Watson, we didn't have many illusions that they could allow us to do what they wouldn't let the Americans do."
The French action appeared to place France back on the same wave length as its major Western allies after the French government appeared to have taken the lead in opposing U.S. attempts to impose sanctions on the Soviet Union for the invasion. This French attempt to "preserve detente" has been accompanied by a consistent denunciation of the Soviet invasion as "unacceptable."
Nevertheless, Froment-Meurice was the only Western envoy to attend the traditional May Day parade in Moscow's Red Square. French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing aroused a storm of protest from practically the entire French press when he made an unannounced trip to Warsaw to talk to Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, thereby breaking the Western front against top-level contacts with the Soviets.
While the approval this action earned him from the French Communist Party is expected to help Giscard in next year's election, the press outcry from the Gaullist portion of his parliamentary majority and of making his own traditionally anti-Soviet followers uneasy enough to express reservations publicly.
The Soviet reaction to Froment-Meurice's expressions of opposition to the invasion contrasted with a warm message of congratulations for Bastitle Day from Brezhnev to Giscard: "The Soviets greatly appreciate the relations of cooperation and mutual understanding with France. . . . Our recent talks in Warsaw have shown that the Soviet Union and France can, even in the current international situation, coordinate with positive effect their efforts in the interest of the policy of detente and peace in Europe and in the whole world."
For the Soviets to have permitted even the diplomatically phrased disapproval of its Afghan policy to be aired would have undermined the impression the Soviet media have been trying to create that French reservations about the Kremlin's Afghan policy are minor, at most.
Froment-Meurice had simply tried to say that the international situation has been aggravated in the past six months and that "the viewpoints of the governments of our two countries have drawn apart over the causes of that aggravation, notably in regard to Afghanistan." France, the ambassador had proposed to say, is prepared "to seek a practical solution to that problem that would allow the evacuation of the Soviet armed forces from Afghanistan." t
French sources noted that it is routine to have such statements approved in advance not only by the Foreign Ministry but also by the presidential palace.
Anything but a refusal to go on the air could have been misinterpreted as a change in French opposition to the Soviet invasion, said the Foreign Ministry communique endorsing the envoy's action.
"The Soviet intervention remains in [the French government's] view unacceptable and the complete withdrawal of the Soviet troops is an indispensable element for a solution in keeping with the rights of the Afghan peoples and with the demands of detente and international peace."