WASHINGTON — The Reagan Administration has offered U.S. logistical support to France for an attack on Libyan troops in northern Chad, but French President Francois Mitterrand has rejected the idea, U.S. officials and European diplomats said Thursday.
The reaction in Paris to what U.S. officials described as preliminary "feelers" on military action against Col. Moammar Kadafi's southern frontier was only one of a series of rebuffs delivered to the Administration in its appeals for new European sanctions against the Libyan regime.
Vernon A. Walters, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, visited eight countries this week showing the allies new evidence that Kadafi is planning terrorist attacks against Western targets and seeking more action to deter them.
No Desire to Fight
But the results appear to have been meager. In Paris, the French said they have no desire to attempt an offensive against Kadafi's estimated 6,000 troops in Chad, the former French colony on Libya's southern border, according to diplomatic accounts.
In Bonn, the government of West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl again rejected a longstanding U.S. plea for a boycott of Libya's government-owned airlines. And in Rome, the Italian government of Socialist Prime Minister Bettino Craxi reportedly resisted Walters' appeals for a broad ban on purchases of Libyan oil.
"The general attitude (of most European governments) is against economic sanctions," said a diplomat who spoke on condition that he not be identified. "We agree on all kinds of police and intelligence measures to prevent terrorism. But we don't believe economic sanctions are appropriate or effective."
State Department officials did not dispute the European accounts but noted that the allies also have reached considerable agreement on other actions against Libya.
"The important point is that there is no disagreement on the need to take concrete measures to underscore our joint opposition to state-supported terrorism," department spokesman Charles Redman said.
"Ambassador Walters is now discussing with our friends the most effective ways to proceed," he said. "This will vary from country to country, depending on the specific circumstances, and it will be up to each country to decide what it might do."
Walters Gives No Details
Walters has pronounced himself pleased at every stop along his European itinerary but has doggedly refused to divulge any of the substance of his talks.
"I am very satisfied," he said in Paris on Thursday afternoon before flying to London.
In Rome, he called his talks "extremely useful and helpful in understanding the Italian position."
European officials said their governments have agreed to continue discussing new actions against Kadafi, including limited sanctions such as a cutoff in technical help to Libya's airline.
And the Europeans were pleased about one thing, one diplomat said: Walters assured them that the Administration is not planning any immediate military reprisal for Kadafi's reported attempts to resume terrorist activities.
"He said the main object was deterrence, not retaliation," the diplomat said.
In the approach to France over Chad, the Administration informally told Mitterrand's government that it would be willing to provide weapons, military intelligence and possibly the use of airborne warning and control system surveillance aircraft if the French decided to support a Chadian offensive against Libyan troops.
Kadafi's army has occupied the northern 40% of Chad since 1983, holding the desert area in support of rebel leader Goukouni Oueddei.
The southern part of Chad, which includes the only arable land in a country that the World Bank has named as the world's poorest, is largely controlled by a French- and U.S.-backed government headed by a former rebel, President Hissen Habre.
France maintains more than 1,000 troops and a squadron of combat aircraft in southern Chad to protect Habre's regime against Libyan attack.
U.S. officials said they recently had been encouraged by reports of unrest among Kadafi's troops and fighting among Goukouni's followers in northern Chad.
"There has been real speculation that the time may be right for Habre to make a military move before the end of the year," one official said.
Air Support Needed
But Habre's government has no air force, so any major offensive against the Libyans--who do have planes--would almost certainly require direct French involvement.
The Administration had made no formal decision on what kind of aid to offer France and Chad in the event that both countries decided to attack the occupying Libyans, officials said. "It is a question of whether Habre decides to undertake an offensive . . . whether the French decide to back him militarily . . . and, if they do, how much of a logistical role the United States should have," one explained. "We recognize that the French have a lead role."
But Mitterrand turned down both a military offensive against Libya and the idea of a visible U.S. role.
"That would make France appear to be an American proxy in Africa," one European diplomat noted. "It is exactly what they don't want."