Western governments today announced the first concrete steps in response to the destruction of Korean Air Lines Flight 007 with 269 persons aboard.
The moves by Canada and France, which followed intense consultations between the United States and allied governments on a concerted response to the reported downing by Moscow, set the stage for further steps, which diplomats in European capitals expect to be spelled out over the next several days.
Canada announced that flights of the Soviet airline Aeroflot between Montreal and Moscow would be suspended for 60 days to protest Soviet silence over the destruction of the South Korean jumbo jet.
The Canadian action appeared to anticipate a request from the Reagan administration that western governments ban Aeroflot flights for an indefinite period because the Soviets have yet to provide a satisfactory explanation for the shooting down of the airliner, informed sources said.
France, meanwhile, announced that an important visit by Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko, which was to have started today, has been postponed.
French officials privately made clear that they had asked for a delay in Gromyko's visit because of the East-West uproar following the disappearance of the plane. The visit was to have been the first by a Soviet foreign minister to France since the election of President Francois Mitterrand.
The last-minute postponement, announced only hours before Gromyko's scheduled arrival here, gives the western allies more time to coordinate a joint response to the Kremlin. The task of being the first to broach the issue directly with the Soviets now falls to U.S. Secretary of State George P. Shultz, who will meet Gromyko in Madrid Thursday during a conference of foreign ministers to review the 1975 Helsinki accords.
Western European governments are eager to avoid a repeat of the internecine squabbling that erupted within the western alliance over sanctions against the Soviet Union following the imposition of martial law in Poland. Officials in several capitals, including Bonn, Paris and Rome, said they had been consulted about the measures the United States intends to take.
At a press conference in Bonn today, West German government spokesman Peter Boenisch said there had been "no controversies of any kind" with the Reagan administration on the need to show a sense of outrage against Moscow over the plane episode.
Political commentators emphasized, however, that maintaining such a united front depended on the Reagan administration being ready to adopt a carefully modulated response to the Soviet Union. There is little support in Western Europe for economic sanctions such as last year's embargo against the Soviet gas pipeline or political sanctions such as suspending arms negotiations.
There is evidence that the public disgust over the plane incident will strengthen the hand of Western European governments scheduled to receive American cruise and Pershing II missiles beginning in December. The Italian newspaper La Stampa today reported a greater degree of unity over this issue within the Socialist-led government.
Foreign Ministry spokesmen contacted by Washington Post correspondents in several Western European capitals said they were waiting to hear President Reagan's speech tonight before deciding what measures to take themselves.
Many European countries, unlike the United States, have binding commercial agreements with Moscow allowing regular two-way air traffic.
Canada's ban on Aeroflot flights was announced in an Ottawa news conference by Foreign Minister Allan MacEachen, who called for similar action by other nations.
Canada "acted to impress upon the Soviet authorities the gravity and determination with which we view this matter," he said. Ten Canadians were among the 269 victims on the Korean plane.
In Washington, the Netherlands Embassy announced today that a Dutch parliamentary delegation had canceled a planned visit to Moscow to protest the plane downing.
West German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher argued that the airline tragedy should not be allowed to jeopardize U.S.-Soviet negotiations on medium-range missiles in Europe, which resume Tuesday.
"Arms negotiations are not a gift to the Soviet Union that should be taken away just because this Korean plane has been shot down," Genscher said in a radio interview.
Chancellor Helmut Kohl is known to share the view that imposing severe economic sanctions might damage the West's own long-term interests. He has, however, reiterated his revulsion at the alleged Soviet action.
At a meeting today of the executive board of his Christian Democratic Union, he said the Kremlin had shown "merciless contempt for humanity" in apparently shooting down the jet. He added: "It proves once again the firm resolution of the Soviet Union to put itself above internationally recognized rules of coexistence in the civilized world . . . ."
In France, the Socialist government has been more circumspect in its public statements. But the incident has served to reinforce anti-Soviet sentiments here that have been growing steadily since the early 1970s with the harassment of political dissidents in the Soviet Union, the invasion of Afghanistan and the events in Poland.
The statement announcing the postponement of Gromyko's visit was released first in Paris--a gesture interpreted to mean that the initiative had come from the French. Several leading opposition figures, including the neo-Gaullist mayor of Paris, Jacques Chirac, had demanded that it be canceled altogether. The announcement said Gromyko now is scheduled to make a stop in Paris on Saturday, after the Madrid talks.
What was once considered a "special relationship" between Paris and Moscow has disappeared almost entirely since Mitterrand took office in May 1981.
Official Soviet commentators have complained that, under Mitterrand, France has adopted an "Atlanticist" foreign policy and abandoned the Gaullist doctrine of acting as a third force in East-West relations.