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British Government Stunned and Angered by Cheysson’s Views

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The British government has been stunned and angered by the attack on Europe’s Middle East diplomacy by French Foreign Minister Claude Cheysson.

Twenty four hours after Cheysson said in Israel Tuesday that there would be no more European initiatives in the Mideast, indicating that as far as France was concerned the European Economic Community’s Venice declaration of June 1980 is dead, the British Foreign Office said that an official record of his remarks was still being awaited. It apparently did not trust the transcript of the remarks made immediately available to it by the BBC’s monitoring service.

It was also pointed out that Foreign Secretary Lord Carrington was likely to meet with Cheysson at the NATO Council meeting today or tomorrow, when there is bound to be asharp exchange of views.

Cheysson’s statement came as the British government was still reeling from the collapse of the Arab summit in Fez, Morocco, and from the Israeli rejection of the British-drafted terms for joining the multinational peacekeeping force in Sinai after Israel withdraws from the area next April. Israel last week questioned the participation of Britain, France, Italy and Holland in the force because they based their participation on the Venice declaration which called for the Palestine Liberation Organization to be associated with the Mideast peace process.

NOT A TOTAL SURPRISE

However, Cheysson’s statement did not come as a total surprise to British diplomats. The first signs that Britain and France differed acutely in their approach to the Middle East came with the election of President Francois Mitterrand. In stark contrast to President Valery Giscard d’Estaing, Mitterrand quickly distanced himself from the EEC’s Venice declaration.

More recently, Mitterrand jumped the gun over the issue of supplying troops to the Sinai peacekeeping and observation force. During his visit to Washington in October, he made it clear that France supported the scheme and the whole Camp David framework. His statement came at the very time that Britain– in the name of Europe — was dragging its feet over the Sinai force and declaring Camp David all but dead.

By saying in Israel that it is the Venice declaration, rather than Camp David, that is outdated, Cheysson showed that, despite their joint membership in the EEC, France and Britain have lost none of their traditional rivalry over the Middle East, even though neither of them is a major power in that area.

PUNCTURED BRITAIN’S ILLUSION

The collapse of the Fez conference punctured Britain’s illusion that it was possible for the Arab world to formulate a common, if tentative, peace policy. Cheysson’s remarks have shown that a viable European policy is also out of reach.

For British Foreign Secretary Lord Carrington, this is a personal as well as diplomatic setback. As the man who had settled the long-running Rhodesian conflict, he had begun his six months presidency of the EEC Council of Ministers in June with high hopes.

Initially, he had hoped that, on behalf of Europe, he could soften the friction between America and the Soviet Union which had flared after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The Russians treated his call for an international conference with disdain. On nuclear disarmament, too, Carrington played no part whatsoever in promoting the latest Big Two negotiations.

From Afghanistan, Carrington turned more hopefully to the Mideast. The Foreign Office, in a welter of press briefings, patronizingly scoffed at the “inconsistency” of American policy, while boasting about Europe’s traditional expertise in the Mideast. For the time being at least it has stopped playing this record.

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