A 51-year-old economist with the unlikely sounding name of Anicet Le Pors and a fondness for bow ties is about to present the Reagan administration with a delicate diplomatic problem by becoming the first Communist minister in the French government to visit the United States.
Le Pors, who holds the politically sensitive post of minister of public administration in France's Socialist-led coalition, is traveling to the United States at the invitation of six American universities. In an interview here today, however, he said that he also expected to meet senior members of the Reagan administration, including Jeane Kirkpatrick, the ambassador to the United Nations.
The Reagan administration has made clear its disapproval of the entry of four Communist ministers into the French government in June 1981. During a visit to France, Vice President Bush said the participation of Communists in the government was "bound to cause concern," while the State Department warned that it could adversely affect "the tone and content" of U.S. relations with a major European ally.
A further complication is the long-standing U.S. policy of refusing visas to Communist Party officials from noncommunist countries in all but exceptional circumstances. A special waiver from the attorney general is required by law before a communist can be admitted to the United States.
In the case of Le Pors, U.S. officials appear to have had little choice but to grant him a visa to avoid an embarrassing controversy involving the French government. At the same time, it is also evident from their tight-lipped silence that they are unhappy about the way his visit has been handled and wonder about the French Communist Party's motives in sending one of their ministers to the United States at this time.
Asked about his planned meeting with Kirkpatrick, a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy here said that he was "unaware of any official engagements" planned for Le Pors in Washington. He added, however, that it was "not impossible" that there could be "informal social contacts."
Le Pors said that, in addition to Kirkpatrick, he also expected to meet with the director of the office of personnel and management, Donald Devine, and with Sen. William V. Roth Jr. (R-Del.), who heads the Governmental Affairs Committee.
Le Pors arrives in the United States March 17, and his provisional schedule includes lectures at the universities of New York, Princeton, George Washington, Syracuse, Indiana and Chicago. He is scheduled to return to Paris March 27.
Le Pors stressed that he was traveling to the United States as a Communist minister in the French government--not as a private citizen. He will be accompanied by a five-person delegation that includes two Communist Party members--his chief of staff and press secretary.
"Obviously this sets a precedent as it is the first time since the formation of this government that a Communist minister has gone to the States," he said.
He added: "Obviously I hope that we the Communists will benefit from being known better. What I want is a free discussion. I don't expect to change U.S. attitudes. I respect their right to their own point of view, but I also expect a reciprocal right to express my point of view."
Seated in his ornate office on the Left Bank, he attempted to defuse American suspicions about the role of Communists in the government.
"Communist ministers have shown that they are as capable as any other minister of governing well . . . . This is the historic proof of our good intentions," he said.
In addition to U.S. objections to the Communist ministers, right-wing French political commentators have accused the Communists of using their time in government to place their men in key positions.
Le Pors insisted that as long as he was a minister, his first duty was to the government and not to his party.
"We are not trying to turn the state apparatus into a Communist Party cell. Experience has shown this. What is true, however, is that while Communist Party members were previously often excluded from responsible positions whatever their merit, now they are considered for the posts along with everyone else," he said.
Asked what benefits the Communist Party derived from a share in government, the minister noted that the party had been out of office for 34 years. "For all political parties, the ultimate aim of their existence is to govern--to change things in the direction you aspire to. It's a danger for any party to be deprived for too long from the exercise of power."
As proof of the "seriousness" with which Communist ministers took the principle of collective responsibility, Le Pors said that there had not been a single issue over which they had been "isolated" from the rest of the government. He said they were free to state their views but ultimately were obliged to stick to decisions taken by President Francois Mitterrand and his Prime Minister Pierre Mauroy.