The Reagan administration will roll out a diplomatic red carpet for France's new foreign minister, Roland Dumas, this week after giving a somewhat chilly reception to his predecessor, Claude Cheysson, in November.
More is involved than diplomatic courtesy for a newcomer in arranging meetings for Dumas with President Reagan, Vice President Bush and national security adviser Robert C. McFarlane in addition to more predictable sessions with Secretary of State George P. Shultz and Secretary of Defense Caspar W. Weinberger, informed officials report.
The meetings come at a time when a new form of cross-border terrorism in Europe, uncertainty surrounding the schedule of cruise missile deployments in Belgium and the Netherlands and lingering differences between Washington and Paris over Libya and outer space missile defenses have created new concern here about U.S. influence in Western Europe.
Administration officials are also aware that they will be dealing with a longtime friend and neighbor of President Francois Mitterrand, who in nearly four decades of friendship frequently has entrusted his most delicate secret missions to Dumas.
"I have come to know him well enough to be able to grasp the nuance of what he says, to understand his words or even his silences, which can be more difficult to understand but just as important," Dumas says of the aloof and private Mitterrand, whose Socialist Party came to power in France in 1981.
In Dumas, U.S. officials will be meeting the former lawyer not only of Mitterrand but also of Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall, the Paris Opera, the Palestinian guerrilla Abu Daoud, and a number of other notables from the literary, artistic and political circles that Dumas frequents in France.
The 62-year-old jurist made his reputation by taking difficult, often messy cases and either winning in court or brokering satisfactory agreements out of court by isolating the essential problems in a case and persuading the parties to overcome them. His soft-spoken, silken manner of massaging an opponent with an argument rather than seeking confrontation stands in sharp contrast to the acerbic and assertive brilliance of Cheysson, whom Dumas replaced last December.
In the first interview he has given since taking office, Dumas, who arrived here Saturday, indicated yesterday that U.S.-French tensions over Chad, which clouded Cheysson's last visit to Washington, have decreased as it has become clear that France is persisting in its efforts to pressure Libya's Col. Muammar Qaddafi into withdrawing Libyan troops from Chad.
"We have not accepted in any way the partition of Chad or the occupation of Chad by the Libyans. We have made it clear that France will fulfill its obligations in Africa, where we work to maintain a balance of forces and the stability of African states," Dumas said.
His appointment has stirred more than normal controversy in France, and Dumas has had to work hard in his first month in office to dispel misgivings about his past. He repeatedly emphasized in his comments yesterday, for example, that he had not been taken in by Qaddafi over Chad when Mitterrand sent him to see the Libyan leader last summer.
"I was sent to give him the unpleasant news that he had to leave Chad. I don't think Qaddafi considers me as one of his friends," Dumas said.
His visit to Qaddafi and his willingness to defend a Palestinian guerrilla chief arrested in France in 1977 also have made him the target of accusations of being too friendly with Arab radicals. As he did yesterday, Dumas has brushed off these characterizations, recalling that one of the charges brought against his father, who was executed by the Gestapo in 1944 for resistance activities, had been sheltering Jews.
And in naming Claude Arnaud, a former French ambassador to Moscow known for his hawkish views, as his chief of staff at the Foreign Ministry, Dumas is seen in Paris as underlining that he will not be soft on the Soviet Union.
American officials are likely to be exposed to Dumas' ability to cloak the sharpest of disagreements in elegant and agreeable formulations when their discussions come to growing European apprehension over Reagan's Strategic Defensive Initiative, popularly known as Star Wars.
Recent public statements by Mitterrand and other officials of the Elysee presidential palace make it clear that French resistance to the concept of mounting antimissile defenses in space is stiffening as research accelerates and as Reagan continues to emphasize that the defensive system is intended to replace the offensive systems that have been the center of mutual deterrence.
France, Dumas maintained yesterday, is merely "expressing a legitimate curiosity" about the implications of Reagan's proposals, which "have touched off both technological and political debates."
"The United States is beginning a change in its philosophy of security by substituting a defensive strategy for an offensive strategy," he said. "It is a seductive philosophy; it can please public opinion. But we need to talk more about this idea of a protective curtain that involves the disappearance of the offensive system."
The prospect of a major change in American nuclear strategy is unsettling for European governments and is contributing significantly to the problems the governments in Belgium and the Netherlands are facing in fixing a schedule to deploy cruise missiles, Dumas said.
Dumas denounced a continuing wave of coordinated terrorist attacks against executives of the French and West German arms industries and against North Atlantic Treaty Organization installations in Europe, and suggested that France might now be more willing to consider joint counterterrorist actions than it has been in the past.
"We are faced with a new form of terrorism, which seems to be directed specifically against the countries of the Atlantic Alliance," he said. "Until now this sort of terrorism seemed to be present primarily in West Germany, but now it is sprouting here and there. There seem to be common sources of supply for different terrorist groups, an underground trade in terrorism that targets us all.
"And when terrorist groups pick out victims in common, putting them in the same boat, it is time for the victims to get together to consider the fate that is being planned for them. We need to think about this together."