White House officials are increasingly concerned that unabated friction between Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. and other high administration officials is hurting U.S. diplomacy at a critical time in the evolution of the administration's foreign policy.
While there is disagreement over what to do about the problem and even about the source of it, some officials say that Haig's role has been diminished since he was rebuked 10 days ago by President Reagan for allowing State Department aides to criticize the performance of U.N. Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick. These officials say that since the Kirkpatrick incident, national securtiy adviser Richard V. Allen has been openly critical of Haig in discussions with other officials and reporters. They say the incident has damaged the administration's effort to speak with a single foreign policy voice.
"The consequence is harmful to the president and to the national interest," a senior Reagan appointee outside the White House said yesterday. "Diplomats in town are wondering who they should be talking to these days."
Officially, the White House is minimizing and conflict, saying that the Kirkpatrick affair has been patched over and that the administration's foreign team is working smoothly. Haig and Kirkpatrick had met privately at the State Department and reportedly patched up differences over Kirkpatrick's role in United Nations approval of the U.S.-- backed resolution condemning Israel for its bombing of an Iraqi nuclear reactor.
A review of foreign policy progress intended to counter criticism of administration confusion was ordered based on reports by Haig, Deputy Secretary of State William P. Clark and Deputy Secretary of Defense Frank C. Carlucci. It came up with a rosy evaluation.
"In virtually every nation we are in much better shape in terms of the feelings of foreign countries than we were when we took office," White House counselor Edwin Meese III contended yesterday.
But there are others who say that the foreign policy process remains the Reagan administration's severest problem. Some of the problem would seem to be Reagan's own formulations and his relative lack of familiarity with foreign policy compared to domestic issues.
But these aides say that many of the problems arise from personality conflicts between Haig and others in the administration, especially with Allen and Secretary of Defense Casper W. Weinberger. In some cases, these personality conflicts seem to be overlapping into policy.
"There seem to be two Al Haigs," said one official who has participated in meeting with the secretary of state. "One is the smooth-talking diplomatic machine who represents this country most capably. The other is an angry man who becomes unraveled whenever his mandate is challenged."
It is the touchiness of Haig that has proved the biggest problem of those who deal with him. At one meeting, when the subject of German troops came under discussion, Haig bristled at Weinberger and said, "And let me tell you, they're a lot better than our troops."
The outbrust was unexpected and startled others at the meeting, including President Reagan. Afterward, one of those attending the session, intending to make fun of Haig, asked rhetorically, "Does Al think that Cap is responsible for the relative merits of German and U.S. troops?"
Allen, in the view of some, has exacerbated the situation. During Reagan's recent California trip the national security adviser, whose dislike of Haig is an open secret in the administration, bluntly gave reporters his critical views of Haig's performance.
Allen was talking on "background," as Haig's aides had been when they criticized Kirkpatrick. In both cases, there was a suspicion that the background briefings had the approval of superiors.
Meese is Allen's direct superior. White House chief of staff James A. Baker III insists that neither he nor Meese nor deputy chief of staff Michael K. Deaver has sought to damage Haig, and there is no evidence to the contrary. As a matter of fact, the members of the White House triumvirate seem to have enjoyed the relative tranquility of a two-month period after some initial infighting in which there was no public demonstration of what some aides indelicately call "the Haig problem."
The issue is larger than an in-house personality dispute withing the administration, and it is more harmful to Reagan than it might be to some other presidents.
By common consent Reagan is far stronger on domestic policy than on foreign affairs, and he needs the kind of attentive briefings that Office of Management and Budget Director David A. Stockman and others invariably provide on economic issues. Reagan is still said to have confidence in Haig but he does not get on easily with his, and he depends upon Allen and his staff for most of the day-to-day informaiton he receives.
This is reflected on a variety of issues. Allen, for instance, is more concerned that Haig over the potential danger of admitting communists to the French Dabinet, and the administration's official statement on this issue reflected Allen's view.Allen is also considered sympathetic to the president's desire to extend an olive branch to Taiwan by allowing the opening of another Taiwanese office in the United States (probably in Boston), while Haig is concerned about the negative impact on the People's Republic of China.
These issues are discussed within the administration, and with Reagan, but some officials insist the discussions would be both fuller and deeper if Haig got along better with Allen and others.
"Al and the president talk on the phone in every crisis situation," says one official. "But I don't think they've sat down and had a good talk together outside of a formal briefing situation for several weeks."
Reagan responds best to verbal discussion of issues in his presence, and the lack of easy familarity with Haig has deprived him of some vital information, according to those who know both men.
"It's really a personality thing," said one White House official yesterday. "Al's a valuable man and he wants to pull in harness but can't seem to do it. It's really kind of sad."