The Reagan administration has made a second attempt to persuade the European Economic Community to withhold aid from a Third World country because of U.S. political and strategic concerns.
In an action that has irritated some of the 10 member countries of the Common Market, a U.S. official was sent to the organization's headquarters in Brussels last week to try to head off possible community assistance to Grenada, a small Caribbean island whose government has close ties to Cuba.
Possible differences of view with the Reagan administration on Central American policy were also apparent in a decision announced Tuesday by the Common Market countries to resume aid to El Salvador through the International Red Cross after a month-long break triggered by a U.S. request to shut off supplies that might fall into the hands of guerrillas fighting El Salvador's government.
Asked about the approach to Europe on the issue of Grenada, a U.S. official said that the United States, although not an EEC member, can express its views to the organization on "something which, because of its implications, [involves] more than just economic interests." A number of the European allies, the official said, share the U.S. view, and "we're not the only ones to be concerned."
The official declined to be identified and would not comment on the level at which the diplomatic presentation was made.
U.S. relations with Grenada have been cool since shortly after a group of young leftists ousted the island's longtime autocratic ruler two years ago. The level of bilateral rhetoric has increased over the past year.The United States has charged the government of Prime Minister Maurice Bishop with curtailing civil rights and turning the country into militarized Cuban pawn. Bishop, has accused Washington of trying to destabilize the island through economic warfare and the promotion of counterrevolutionary forces.
Although some EEC members are known to disagree with the U.S. assessment of the situation, others, particularly the British, who maintain active involvement among former colonies in the region, have consulted closely with the administration on problems in the Caribbean. But the organization feels that such bilateral concerns should not enter into decisions that, under its own regulations, are strictly economic.
More important, administration efforts to influence EEC decisions are viewed as unseemly attempts at intervention that are likely to create strains across the Atlantic by compromising the Common Market's relations with the Third World.
Last month, in what was described as a virtually unprecedented request casting doubt on the independence of the Common Market's aid channels, the administration asked the organization to freeze more than $1 million in emergency food and medical shipments to El Salvador on grounds that it might fall into the hands of leftist guerrillas there.
The EEC imposed a month-long moratorium on such shipments, but resumed funding for aid to El Salvador after seeing a Red Cross report that indicated the aid would be delivered to the intended recipients.
While there is no war under way in Grenada, a small island northwest of Venezuela, the administration maintains that EEC assistance on an airport construction program would help further what it says are Cuba's "expansionist" aims in the Caribbean basin.
Grenada is a signatory to the Lome Convention, a trade and aid pact that joins the Common Market to 60 Third World countries in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific. Under the terms of the pact, the EEC guarantees fixed amounts of development assistance to member nations that propose feasible economic development projects.
The Grenadan government has asked for EEC help in completing a new airport, now under construction at the southern edge of the 22-mile-wide island with massive Cuban assistance in the form of laborers and materials. The airport is designed to accommodate aircraft as big as a Boeing 747 and will replace a potholed landing strip that serves only small-capacity planes.
Grenadan officials say the project is vital to alleviate widespread unemployment and boost a failing economy by expanding tourism.
The State Department, under both the Regan and Carter administrations, has been suspicious of the project, indicating that Cuba intends to use the airport as a military air base to give it a center of operations on both ends of the Caribbean.
As evidence of its claim the department observes that Grenada, with less than 1,000 hotel rooms does not have the infrastructure to support the influx of tourists it says the airport will bring; that Cuba's aid is always designed to further its own interests; that the Grenadan government is a virtual pawn of Fidel Castro and that therefore it could have no other reason to build such a large facility.
Grenada counters that its tourist industry will never expand unless outsiders have a better way of getting there, and that building a mid-sized facility that may later have to be replaced makes little sense. Despite long British and U.S. dominance over the island, Bishop maintains, neither of the big powers ever offered aid as substantial as that of Cuba.
The airport project has become a nationalistic symbol for Grenada and the government's chief claim to future economic improvement. Begun in late 1979, it is still a long way from completion. While the Cubans have contributed the building materials and teams of workers, Castro's own economic problems have limited the amount of cash he can offer and the project is short on funds.
Last year, during a regular visit to the region of the EEC-Lome projects team, the governments of Grenada and the neighboring island of St. Lucia requested an unspecified amount of Common Market help in finishing the project. Although feasibility studies are in progress, it may take more than another year for an EEC vote to commit funds. The applicants are now expected to call a convention of a number of possible contributors to the airport.
In its presentation in Brussels last week, the Reagan administration asked that the Common Market not attend such a convention and that it take U.S. concerns into account should funding the project come to a vote within the organization. Although the EEC has not formally responded to the requests, its official position is that the terms of the Lome Convention do not permit such considerations to be taken into account.