Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau plans to press the Reagan administration during NATO and economic summit meetings next month to abandon the strategy of linking East-West trade and arms control negotiations to Soviet behavior on political questions.
Trudeau said he had greeted President Reagan's call this month for new strategic arms reductions talks with Moscow with "congratulations and relief." But the Canadian leader emphasized in an interview here that he and Reagan's major European economic and military partners will be "pushing on him" for a more explicit rejection of the controversial "linkage" strategy that has helped stall serious arms negotiations during the past two years.
This course could put Trudeau, who previously has worked hard to keep the United States from being isolated at international conferences, at odds with the Reagan administration at the seven-nation economic summit in Versailles beginning June 4. Washington has indicated that it will make further restrictions on credits that finance East-West trade, and the dangers of West European economic dependence on Soviet exports, central themes of the meeting.
Interviewed late Sunday after he had delivered the commencement address at the University of Notre Dame, the Canadian leader said bluntly that he is "not too impressed by the argument of dependency. If anything, I'm rather favorable to dependencies" that create greater contact and trust between East and West.
"If we're going to reach the day when we're going to be able to verify each other's military arsenals, we may be better equipped to do that if we have created some trade and other relations" before, Trudeau said.
Trudeau spoke throughout the interview with a softly phrased, almost silken, detachment and appeared to take great care to cushion remarks that could be taken as criticism of the Reagan administration. But his comments suggested that U.S.-Canadian relations have reached a new low point and that these troubles could spill over into next month's conferences.
The Reagan administration's continuing inability to bring down interest rates presents the central point of conflict, in the Canadian's view. Trudeau suggested that this question will be an even more divisive issue at Versailles than it was at the Ottawa summit meeting that he hosted last July, when the Reagan administration said that its supply-side economic program would restore the American economy to health and lead to a reduction in interest rates.
"We emerged with the assurance that, 'Give us six months and it's going to be all right.' Six months have gone into 11 months and it's still not all right, and I think there may be a little pushing and shoving there," Trudeau said, adding:
"The high level of unemployment in many of our Western societies is reaching a point where the social fabric may be threatened and where cries of protectionism will result in attempting to protect our fabric . . . . It will all be made even clearer to Reagan this year than it was perhaps last year."
The other participants at Versailles--Britain, France, West Germany, Japan and Italy--feel the effect of what Trudeau called the contradiction of the Reagan administration's "very restrictive monetary policy and expansionary fiscal policy through large deficits." But Canada is most directly and severely affected because it must peg interest rates in its money markets several percentage points higher to keep funds from flowing south into the United States.
These rates have curbed sharply investment and new jobs in Canada, where unemployment stands at more than 9 percent, a record for this century. Unlike the United States, inflation has not cooled and is at 12 percent. These economic problems have contributed greatly to Trudeau's fall in public opinion polls to his lowest standing ever, despite his recent nation-building triumphs of reducing the threat of separatist forces in Quebec and of giving Canada full control over its constitution.
Two recent blows from south of the border also have made Trudeau more vulnerable to criticism at home. Last month, American companies announced that they were delaying for two years the start of the $40 billion Alaska Highway natural gas pipeline that would carry gas through Canada into the United States. Despite domestic opposition, the Trudeau government went ahead with construction of a major portion of the Canadian segment of the line and could be left holding the bag if the project does not proceed.
Leaks from Washington that Trudeau has agreed to allow the United States to test cruise missiles with dummy nuclear warheads over terrain in Alberta Province that resembles the Soviet Union also have become a problem. The opposition has derided Trudeau's earlier calls for "suffocation" of new nuclear weapons in the laboratory by making controls on research and development as important as numerical curbs on the number of warheads and missile launchers in existence.
His speech at Notre Dame and the interview that followed represented Trudeau's most extensive public discussion of East-West issues since the 1978 speech that introduced the "suffocation" concept. He appeared to acknowledge tacitly that the North-South issues of economic interdependence between rich and poor nations that he has concentrated on since then will be squeezed off the summit agendas next month by the more urgent concerns of arms control and unemployment in the developed countries.
"What is needed is more than mere bookkeeping and auditing," he said in an apparent reference to Reagan's May 9 Eureka College speech proposing mutual cuts in U.S. and Soviet nuclear arsenals. "We must also convince each other that our intentions are what we say they are. This cannot be done by isolating ourselves or isolating the Soviets on every political, social and economic issue."
Expressing sharp disappointment at the abandonment of the SALT II treaty, Trudeau said in his Notre Dame text, "We have been disturbed by the dialogue of the deaf, by the separate solitudes of the two superpowers" that has followed the failure of the treaty and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
Asked later about linkage, Trudeau noted that "the history of the whole thing is intermeshed with politics. There is always some interest group that is putting pressure on you to say it is all right not to link arms control with the Soviet Jewish immigration problem, but you have to link to what they are doing in Poland. Somebody else will want to link it to other things . . . . When you're talking about military events like moving into Afghanistan, it is harder to delink. But, still, I would say the less linkage, the better."
Trudeau's deep concern about the pace of superpower negotiations on arms control was lessened to some extent by Reagan's speech.
"At least he didn't introduce the notion of linkage. I think that is a fundamental turn if he is abandoning it . . . . He didn't say, as I just did, 'We must renounce linkage.' He just talked about the other things. That is one giant step.
"I think it is important that the rest of the alliance keep pushing on him in that direction. We don't want the next speech to say, 'By the way, I forgot the last time to talk about linkage, and I have something to say on that. You know, I want to restore it . . . . 'I would hope the political discussion we're going to have at the summit would lend clarity to some of these questions that I'm asking myself."
That discussion is likely to come when the 15 members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization meet in Bonn on June 9.