A spacecraft carrying one French and two Soviet crewmen blasted off on Saturday for a monthlong mission as President Francois Mitterrand of France looked on.
Mitterrand, accompanied by his wife Danielle and Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze, peered through binoculars as the Soyuz TM-7 craft lifted off from the launch site at Baikonur in Soviet Central Asia.The launch, on the final day of Mitterrand's two-day visit to the Soviet Union, was shown live on Soviet television. The Soyuz craft lifted off at 8:30 a.m. MST, enveloping the launch pad in a sheet of flame.
French cosmonaut Jean-Loup Chretien, who also took part in a 1982 Soviet space shot, will become the first West European to walk in space during the mission aboard the orbiting Mir space station. Chretien is due to return to Earth on Dec. 21, with Mir's current two-man crew.
His two crewmates, mission commander Alexander Volkov and Sergei Krikalyov, will take over operation of Mir and return to Earth next April.
Mitterrand flew to Baikonur aboard his Concorde aircraft after a final meeting in Moscow with Kremlin leader Mikhail Gorbachev, with whom he had some three hours of talks on Friday.
The Soviet news agency Tass said the two leaders summed up the results of their talks, with both sides expressing "deep satisfaction with the fact that their positions on many issues coincided."
After Friday's talks, the first meeting between the two men for two years, French presidential spokesman Hubert Vedrine said the talks had been "very effective and very direct" and had covered disarmament as well as East-West cooperation.
Soviet Foreign Ministry spokesman Gennady Gerasimov told a news briefing the two sides had agreed that they "should not allow a weakening of dialogue between them."
Relations between the two countries went through a cool period after Mitterrand's last visit to Moscow in July 1986, when he criticised the Soviet human rights record.
Human rights were also raised during Friday's talks. Tass said Mitterrand had expressed support for a Soviet proposal to hold an international human rights conference in Moscow.
"However, with this in view, the Soviet Union should take additional steps for the implementation of provisions of the Helsinki Final Act, those that deal with human rights," Tass quoted the French President as saying.
Some Western countries are opposed to the proposed Moscow conference on grounds that it would be absurd to hold such a meeting in a country that still has political prisoners.
But in an interview on Friday with French television, Mitterrand defended his position: "The Soviet Union is one of our partners with whom we must discuss the question of human rights," he said.
Gorbachev, for his part, said the Soviet Union was involved in a process of humanizing its society and making it more democratic, as part of the development of socialism.
"Much is being done for the expansion of human rights and the working out of more reliable guarantees of their exercise. Some people have grievances against us on this issue. But we too can state our grievances," Tass quoted him as saying.
Mitterrand's visit to Moscow followed those by Italian Prime Minister Ciriaco de Mita, West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and Austrian Chancellor Franz Vranitzky and preceded Gorbachev's planned trip to the United States and Britain.
At Friday's briefing, Gerasimov noted that although some 130 joint business ventures between Soviet organizations and foreign firms had been set up under Moscow's economic reforms, only six of these involved French companies.
Tass said the talks covered expanding cooperation in trade, science and technology between the Soviet Union and Western Europe in general and with France in particular.