The United States and France sought yesterday to play down their differences over relations with Libya and the situation in Chad, with both sides saying little or nothing in the wake of high-level administration meetings here with French Foreign Minister Claude Cheysson.
The State Department made no comment after three hours of meetings, including a working lunch, between Cheysson and Secretary of State George P. Shultz. Earlier, department spokesman John Hughes refused to comment on provocative remarks by Cheysson in yesterday's morning newspapers, claiming that he had not seen the statements.
French sources said Libya and Chad figured in the Shultz-Cheysson discussions, but not as a subject of discord. This account of the talks said Cheysson took the opportunity to remind Shultz of French objectives in Chad.
Cheysson refused to comment as he left the State Department. On Sunday, the French minister complained publicly in Paris about what he charged was an officially inspired press campaign against the French position by the U.S. administration. Cheysson, in a remark that might have brought a sharp U.S. retort under other circumstances, was quoted as suggesting that Washington's concern about the French pullout from Chad arose from a desire "to give us indirect advice to deal with the Libyans like they Americans do with Nicaragua."
In the view of some administration officials, the French government's embarrassment over the situation in Chad is serious enough that Washington would be foolish to add to it. Officials also cited reports that Cheysson is likely to be replaced in the near future as foreign minister, suggesting that this contributed to their kid-gloves approach.
France announced Nov. 10 that both its troops and Libyan troops had been withdrawn from Chad. But the State Department said last week that many Libyan troops remain, and the French government subsequently conceded the point with a great deal of political embarrassment.
Hughes said that, despite the flap, U.S.-French relations are "sound and good." He portrayed Shultz's decision not to attend a French Embassy dinner in honor of Cheysson last night as normal. Officials said Shultz would stop by the embassy for cocktails to show that he is not snubbing Cheysson.