Chapter 2 -- or 3 or 4 -- of the troubled East-West German relationship has opened. Egon Bahr, the West German Social Democrat who negotiated the original detente between the two states almost a decade ago, has had a cordial two-hour chat with East German party and state chief Erich Honecker.
The ultimate aim, West German journalists suspect, is to reschedule the twice-aborted East-West German summit. After his surprise meeting in the East Berlin Communist Party Central Committee headquarters Sept. 4, Bahr denied having spoken about a summit, however, and said that his discussions had concerned "almost exclusively questions of disarmament and arms control."
Certainly it's as unpropitious a time as ever for a tete-a-tete between Honecker and West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt. East-West relations are still frigid. Poland is still held in suspense. The Soviets are still occupying Afghanistan, and have just flouted the Helsinki agreement by mounting their largest military exercise since World War II without prior notification of the West.
Moreover, East Germany still extracts last year's doubled (for some categories quadrupled) visa fees from West Germans going to see East German relatives or friends. The Soviet press has just attacked Schmidt more bitterly than ever -- despite the forthcoming Soviet-West German summit -- over Schmidt's support for new NATO nuclear missiles. And Honecker has just one-upped Schmidt by getting invited by Mexico for an official visit this week (during his first trip to South America) after Schmidt was denied such an invitation.
Nonetheless, both West and East Germany are uneasy about the current limbo in their own relations and fear it could lead beyond stagnation to serious deterioration. Hence Schmidt's confidential but apparently friendly letter to Honecker a month ago. Hence Honecker's confidential by apparently friendly reply to Schmidt a few days before the Honecker-Bahr meeting. Hence the hints in the East German press of continued interest in a summit -- and Bahr's stressing to journalists that both sides want to avoid a worsening of relations.
Might a summit be the vehicle for improved East-West German relations? Schmidt has raised the possibility of an all-German summit after Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev visits Bonn in November.