ROME, FEB. 4 -- U.S. Secretary of Defense Frank C. Carlucci today reassured the Italian government -- and, indirectly, the Atlantic alliance -- that despite Spain's planned expulsion of a wing of U.S. F16s, the United States has no desire to withdraw the fighter-bombers or any of its forces from Europe.

After conferring with Defense Minister Valerio Zanone today about the possibility of transferring the 401st Tactical Fighter Wing from Spain to Italy, Carlucci said they agreed on the necessity of keeping the fighter-bombers in Europe.

The F16s' presence in Europe is "essential especially for the defensive requirements of the southern region of the alliance, taking account in particular of the need not to further aggravate the imbalance against the alliance in conventional weapons," Carlucci and Zanone said in a joint statement.

The Italian government made clear to Carlucci today that it is "predisposed" to give serious consideration to basing the planes in Italy if it is asked by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, to which the proposal must first be referred, Zanone told journalists after the talks.

Zanone, who discussed the possible F16 transfer with parliamentary defense committees this week, has argued in favor of basing the planes in Italy, since the aircraft help provide for the defense of NATO's southern flank, of which Italy is a key defense component. The 401st fighter wing is tasked with defending Italy, Greece, Turkey and Spain.

"We agree it is vitally important for the {NATO} alliance that this capability be maintained in Europe," Carlucci said, referring to the F16s at Torrejon Air Base outside Madrid.

"The United States has no desire whatsoever to reduce its presence in Europe," Carlucci told a press conference after his talks with Zanone, Foreign Minister Giulio Andreotti and Prime Minister Giovanni Goria. "We do not want to withdraw one soldier, one weapon. We stand totally with NATO."

On Jan. 15, U.S. and Spanish negotiators agreed that the wing -- made up of 72 F16s, about 4,500 servicemen and an equal number of family members -- would be withdrawn from Torrejon in three years. The agreement opened the way for the United States to begin negotiating a new eight-year agreement with Spain that would guarantee the maintenance there of other key U.S. installations, including the nuclear submarine base at Rota.

Carlucci stressed today that redeployment of the F16s is not a "bilateral issue, or a U.S." problem, but one for NATO to resolve collectively. Once NATO has analyzed the issue, he said, and determined what its needs and desires are, then it will study the question of exactly where the planes should be based.

Neither Greece, which has its own aversion to U.S. bases, nor Turkey, which already has U.S. Air Force fighters stationed on its soil, is deemed suitable for consideration.

The Italian defense minister said he does not believe that there would be a political problem in getting an agreement to station the F16s in Italy, even though the nation's Communists, Socialists and other left-wing parties have expressed their reservations.