The Russians have finally accepted the fact that Europe is not to be split from the United States on the issue of theater nuclear weapons, the West German government and foreign ministry contend.
This explains the new Soviet willingness to enter negotiations to limit these weapons -- and the marked Soviet respect for West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt in Moscow despite his tough stance on arms and Afghanistan.
The West German conservative opposition contests this assessment of Schmidt's June 30-July 1 visit to Moscow. In the opposition view, the Russians are offering to negotiate precisely because they think this will split Europe and the United States. And they showed such deference to Mr. Schmidt -- at a time when they are castigating American President Carter -- for exactly the same reason.
The first test of these contrary theses will com in Belgium, which must now make its six-month-late decision on whether to accept new NATO theater nuclear weapons on its soil. Belgium abstained last December when NATO made its arm-and-disarm "double decision": to deploy new theater nuclear weapons from 1983 on if there is no arms-control agreement by then, but to press Moscow hard in the meantime to negotiate mutual limits.
West Germans officials are bombarding the Belgians with the argument that only the unified determination of the West to go ahead with these weapons will ever persuade the Soviet Union to agree to mutual limitations on them.
Simultaneously, West Germany officials are arguing in NATO and domestic policy debates that only a real commitment to arms control can ensure the necessary public support for the eventual deployment of essential new NATO weapons if no agreement is reached.