President Bush won support from French President Francois Mitterrand Saturday for a U.S. proposal to settle a NATO dispute over short-range nuclear missiles in Europe, a senior U.S. official said.
Secretary of State James Baker said the plan called for the alliance to postpone modernization of its Lance short-range missiles (SNF) until 1992 in exchange for a West German agreement that conventional force reductions must come before any SNF negotiations with the Soviet Union."The two presidents stressed the absolute need to maintain nuclear deterrence in Europe and that we should concentrate now on conventional force reductions," Baker told reporters after Baker and Mitterrand completed talks at Bush's summer home in Maine.
He said the two leaders "reviewed the general outlines of (the U.S. plan) and found themselves in complete agreement."
French Foreign Minister Roland Dumas, who also took part in the news briefing, said the plan was "very close" to views expressed by Mitterrand at a Paris news conference Thursday.
The French leader, whose country is part of NATO's political structure but not a member of its integrated military command, said the alliance should not now agree to SNF talks but that it should defer updating its aging Lance arsenal.
West Germany, with the backing of nearly half of the 16 countries in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, has been pressing for talks on the missiles, which have a range of under 300 miles.
The United States and Britain contend NATO needs the weapons, most of which are based on German soil, to offset Soviet-bloc superiority in troops, tanks and other conventional arms.
Baker, who discussed the dispute with West German Defense Minister Gerhard Stoltenberg in Washington Friday, said Bonn had submitted a proposal for resolving it and that the U.S. plan was a counter-proposal.
"We have not as yet heard officially from the German government about whether or not the suggestions made in that counter-proposal are acceptable," he said.
Baker said he understood there were to be meetings about it in Bonn on Sunday morning. He also indicated that Britain, which has been even tougher on the SNF issue than the United States, would go along with the plan.
Bush and Mitterrand, who was accompanied here by his wife Danielle and a small official party, discussed the SNF controversy as the French leader began an overnight visit to Kennebunkport.
The rift threatened to spoil a show of unity at NATO's 40th anniversary summit in Brussels May 29 and 30.
Bush and Mitterrand went for an hour-long walk in the woods after a meeting and working luncheon at Walker's Point, Bush's seaside estate. They were set for a private lobster dinner Saturday night and were to travel to Boston together on Sunday to address a Boston University graduation ceremony.