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Schmidt speaks softly, carries a big stick

West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt goes to the United States May 20: * "Satisfied" with Reagan administration consultations so far. * Embattled but vocally confident that he can deliver the Social Democratic vote for planned new NATO nuclear weapons.

* Intent on restraining Soviet "imperialistic policy."

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* Determined that the US shall hold no veto over the pending gas-for-pipeline deal between West Germany and the Soviet Union.

In a wide-ranging interview with nine American correspondents before his visit, the chancellor rejected any notion that the Reagan administration might consider him too eager for detente.

He was the first to proclaim NATO's need for long-range theater nuclear forces, he pointed out -- at a time when the Ford administration and the US did not show much understanding about the new danger of Soviet "Eurostrategic" superiority. He was willing to introduce the enhanced-radiation warhead (popularly known as the "neutron bomb") in West Germany, while it was "the American President" -- Schmidt avoided voicing the name "Carter" -- who renounced this weapon.

Furthermore, West Germany, unlike the United States, has universal military service -- the only signal of defense efforts that the Russians take seriously. The Bundeswehr of 500,000, with a mobilized strength of 1.2 million within a few days, is one of the best in the world.

With this record, Mr. Schmidt declared, "I find it difficult to understand that I am now being accused as hesitant about the necessary remedy [to the 1970s Soviet military buildup]. . . . Against a considerable resistance in your country I initiated the understanding that the SS-20 armaments process could not be left without adequate response from the West."

At the same time Schmidt reaffirmed the need for negotiations with the Soviet Union on the already-deployed SS-20 mobile missile, NATO's planned long-range theater nuclear forces, and other Eurostrategic weapons. Once again he welcomed President Reagan's recently announced "Rome signal" in resuming these negotiations with the Soviet Union this year. And he expressed no doubts at all about America's good faith in entering these negotiations.

In developing his tenet of the importance of both military preparedness and civil dialogue in East-West relations, Schmidt also noted the value of avoiding "harsh language in public."

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He elaborated, "There is an old Latin proverb, 'Suaviter in modo, fortiter in rem [roughly equivalent to Theodore Roosevelt's 'Speak softly and carry a big stick'].' The older I get, the more I believe in this diplomatic lesson. . . . Being 'moderate in the fashion of your expression' doesn't exclude being clear and unmistakable."

Nonetheless, in prepared remarks in German before he answered questions in English, Mr. Schmidt characterized the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan as "imperialistic policy. In this context he expressed certainty that the NATO alliance would hold fast to its task of maintaining an East-West military balance.

Schmidt -- who has long held that NATO must proceed with deployment of its new nuclear weapons if the Russians are to be persuaded to negotiate arms control seriously -- expressed no doubt that his party would approve this deployment in West Germany. He dismissed growing Social Democratic and youth opposition to the new weapons as a regional and temporary phenomenon. And he observed that in a country where conscription touches everyone, there is always going to be a much more rigorous public debate about defense than in a country with no draft.

"It was a good friend of mine who did away with the draft in the United States, Melvin Laird, . . . in order to get rid of a great number of [troubles] with the young generation," Schmidt observed. American draftees were fleeing the country "to Canada, to Sweden, and other places. I'm not construing or implying any complaint or criticism [of the US for not having conscription].

"But what I say is, if you have difficulties with your young generation, please look into the matter, and please try to evaluate what you are asking from your young generation and what we are asking from ours. We are asking more from ours at present than you do from yours."

In two fighting speeches over the weekend he scolded those junior Social Democrats who make it sound as if Washington is the West Germans' enemy and Moscow their friend. He also threatened to resign --and a conservative chancellor -- if the Social Democrats reject implementation of the new NATO deployments.

On US-German consultation Schmidt remarked, "It's a little bit too early to make any judgment on that question. Since that sad attempt to kill your President, it's obvious that the Reagan administration needed some additional time . . . to clarify, to define, to articulate their policies.I have nothing to complain about on those fields in which we had jointly to act in the past couple of months," in defense and diplomacy.

He expressed particular appreciation for modification of Washington's original quantitative defense yardstick of 3 percent increases in annual budgets by qualitative measures of caliber of junior officers and the like. He noted that West Germany came close to a 3 percent defense increase throughout the 1970 s in any case -- at a time when US defense budgets were declining in real terms. But he welcomed the more sophisticated evaluation of defense efforts that has now been agreed on.

When asked if Reagan's lifting of the Soviet grain embargo would make it any easier for Schmidt to sell the Americans on West Germany's pending oil-for-pipeline deal with the Soviet Union, Schmidt rejected the notion of any American say in the matter. "I need not sell the autonomous foreign trade policy in any other country if it is in our interest," he declared. "I am not under the surveillance of or in a situation where anybody else has a right to veto our foreign trade policy."

West Germany, which is 85 percent dependent on energy imports, has to diversify its energy sources, both in type of fuel and in country of origin, he pointed out. And he gave an example of the risks of not diversifying in the American threat (under the still unnamed Carter) to cut off uranium supplies to West Germany in a dispute over West German nuclear plant exports to Argentina and Brazil.

Bonn has set classified ceilings on its energy dependence on various countries, Schmidt continued, and the Soviet gas imports would not exceed these. (A West German Cabinet member told American journalists earlier that the 6 or 7 percent energy dependence that the gas would constitute is, in fact, the ceiling for the Soviet Union.)

Schmidt also made clear the limits of West German willingness to help defray the costs of American troops and weapons stationed in West Germany. He endorsed West German payment for what is called "wartime host-nation support" -- providing the cooks and some stockpiling of artillery and the like for any American troops to be flown to West Germany in case of hostilities.

He rejected, however, any "offset" payments for peacetime stationing of the sort Bonn undertook in an earlier period when the US had a huge current-account deficit and Germany a huge surplus. Now the trade and payments positions are reversed, and there are no grounds for Bonn to help Washington out financially, he suggested.

In other matters Schmidt anticipated continuation with new French President Franois Mitterrand of the close French-German relationship that was personified in Schmidt's friendship with outgoing President Valery Giscard d'Estaing.

"The work was carried on by de Gaulle and afterward by Pompidou, afterward by Giscard d'Estaing. I have no doubt that it will be carried on by Mitterrand." And on the German side the policy that was carried on by Adenauer, Erhard, Kiesinger, Brandt, and Schmidt "will be carried on by anybody who becomes chancellor in his clear senses. It's a European necessity."

Schmidt also mentioned the harmful effect of high US interest rates on stagnant European economies; mused about the distortions forced on the lives of public figures by necessary security measures in an age of terrorism; and declared that he would continue his attempts of 25 years to increase German-Israeli understanding despite the attac ks on him by Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin.

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