"I don't find that I disagree with the American administration, give or take a few commas or semicolons," said Britain's foreign secretary, Lord Carrington, adding that he thought most of his European colleagues felt the same way, "though you may get differences in emphasis."
"Differences in emphasis" have loomed large within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in recent months. They have ranged from public U.S. criticism of Carrington's own outspoken advocacy of the Europeans' independent policy in the Middle East to divisions among the allies about how to respond to the military crackdown in Poland, and from the Europeans' refusal to back any actions the Reagan administration might take against Libya to European diplomatic hostility toward the U.S.-backed, military government in Turkey.
But Carrington said in an interview here this week that he was not overly worried about the lengthening list of disagreements among the allies on apparently fundamental foreign policy issues. Dismissing judgments that the alliance is in disarray, he added, "I've heard people say that for at least the last 25 years."
"It's too much to expect everyone to have an identical response" to such problems, Carrington said. Acknowledging some concern about impatience in Washington with the Europeans' response to the Polish crisis so far, he said, "We sometimes also worry about the American response" in other situations.
Asked about the frequently expressed worry of European diplomats that they may next be asked by the Reagan administration to support some drastic step in Central America, such as a blockade of Cuba or Nicaragua, Carrington sidestepped the question by saying, "I think it's exceedingly understandable that the United States would be worried about what is happening in Central America. It is of particular interest for the United States."
"And the Americans have to understand the same thing about some European interests," he added, such as East-West trade and Europe's proximity to the Soviet Union.
Noting that the Reagan administration exempted current U.S. wheat sales from its economic sanctions against the Soviet Union over Poland, Carrington indicated the Europeans similarly want to exempt contracts they have already signed to construct and receive natural gas from a Soviet-Western European pipeline. "We have got to equate the measure of pain," he said.
Asked why Britain was not acting alone on his expressed conviction that the Europeans must back the United States with some kind of action on Poland, Carrington referred to Britain's familiar but sometimes strained role in seeking a collective European response instead.
"There is an enormously valuable gain if the Europeans can speak with one voice," Carrington said. The 10 members of the Common Market, he added, "can speak for the West as well as the Americans can. This adds something to the strength of the views of the West."
"It is sad," Carrington said, "that some of my American friends see this as an obstacle or some kind of rivalry to the United States. No one is thinking that the Europeans can go it alone."
On the Middle East, in which Carrington has personally been leading an independent European campaign for a new approach to the search for peace, he said Britain and the other Common Market countries would continue to advocate the principles of their Venice declaration last year. It called for Arab acceptance of the existence of Israel in return for recognition of the stateless Palestinians' right to self-determination.
Despite Israeli and hard-line Arab hostility to the Venice principles, Carrington said he still believed that acceptance of them by Israel and the Arabs "would remove one of the major obstacles to negotiations."
"The Venice principles actually have caught on in quite a large way," he claimed. "They have become almost commonplace in the discussion. We must find a way to translate that into practice."
But he also said nothing could be done until after Israeli withdrawal from the Sinai was completed and talks on Palestinian autonomy between Israel and Egypt under their Camp David peace agreement "are resolved." This has been insisted on by the Reagan administration, which had accused Carrington of interfering with the Camp David process by antagonizing Israel with persistent advocacy of the European policy.
Carrington also said Britain, France, Italy and the Netherlands intended eventually to provide the diplomatic response to a joint U.S.-Israeli statement on European participation in the Sinai peace-keeping force that could clear the way for the four countries to provide token contributions to the force sought by the United States and Egypt to ensure the Israeli withdrawal