US-French Relations Hit Rocks over European Defense

Article excerpt

FRANCO-AMERICAN relations, spiced with rivalry and jousting even in the best of times, are traversing a particularly stormy period as differences escalate over a number of international issues of central importance to both countries.

The discord is acute over such topics as international trade relations and European security.

Yet the common source of tension in all the problem issues, from the French point of view, is a fundamental mistrust among American officials of the project for a strong, united Europe with, as one highly placed French official says, "a certain autonomy."

"It's as if this European construction were designed to antagonize the Americans...." says Jean Musitelli, chief spokesman for French President Francois Mitterrand. "But for us it's the condition for any real common progress. We want the Americans to understand that the alternative is a weak, unstable Europe, a Yugoslavia force 10, and no one wants that."

For the French, a stronger military role for Europeans on their own continent is a necessity as the United States pursues a partial military disengagement from Europe. They do not question US supremacy in trans-Atlantic security arrangements, they say, but insist it is in both sides' interest if Europe prepares now for a reduced US presence.

And if relations between the US and France are particularly rough now, they say, it is because France is the only European country to speak up frankly about European ambitions.

Also playing a role, however, is a series of recent incidents that only aggravated relations that just last year, at the end of the Gulf war, appeared close.

* First, Mr. Mitterrand declared in April that the Los Angeles riots were the result of President Bush's conservative social policies. Recognizing that the commentary was not very diplomatic, Mitterrand quickly used a subsequent interview to laud Mr. Bush's leadership - a gesture to which Bush responded with a personal note.

* But then a May visit to Washington by Foreign Minister Roland Dumas went particularly badly: Meetings between Mr. …