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W. Germans see Reagan in new light after presidential visit

In the end the considerable West German gamble on inviting President Reagan to Bonn and West Berlin paid off.

This is the consensus, in retrospect, of relieved American and West German officials.

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The one thing that made the gamble succeed was Mr. Reagan's willingness to present himself throughout his visit as a man of peace. This was by no means a foregone conclusion last spring, when Chancellor Helmut Schmidt and Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher insisted that Mr. Reagan come to West Germany.

It was not even a foregone conclusion up to a week before Reagan gave his end-of-April Eureka speech, and the infighting over the US position on strategic arms control talks still raged between the anti-arms-control Defense Department and the pro-arms-control State Department.

In the event, when the amiable Reagan did appear in person here, his main theme was America's interest in arms control across the whole spectrum from conventional forces to the strategic nuclear arms negotiations that will resume June 29. And the impact of this was evident in the comments after the hoopla was over and Air Force One lifted off for the US June 11.

''He's conservative; he's tough; but he's not wild-eyed,'' one Western European leader with strong anti-American leanings told a West German member of parliament with grudging approval.

''He let himself be influenced a little in more peaceful way by the peace movement in Europe and the US,'' observed a Bonn university student. ''I will now watch to see if he continues in this direction and stays with it.''

''This is a man of peace; we believe that he is really a good man,'' was the predominant grass-roots reaction in his constituency, noted conservative Bundestag member Manfred Worner. He had been ''described in my country -- and of course some of his speeches for domestic purposes confirmed this image -- as a cowboy, a warmonger, a dangerous man . . . . Of course this has not completely disappeared, but this image has been (greatly weakened).''

''Visit to Germany was almost flawless staging of trans-Atlantic harmony,'' trumpeted the headline in the Kolner Stadt-Anzeiger, and this was echoed by other daily newspapers. So favorable was the press coverage, in fact, that some West Germans found it sycophantic.

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Before the Eureka speech the risk was that Reagan might repeat on German soil his earlier hard-line rhetoric about the Soviet Union thus solidifying widespread West German suspicions that Reagan was trigger-happy.

The obverse risk was that American TV viewers, shocked by the violence of anti-Reagan demonstrators in West Berlin, would have concluded that it isn't worth defending ungrateful West Germans, and that the US should pull its troops out of Europe.

The third, political risk was that the Reagan administration -- fed up with the left-wing rebellion against new NATO missiles within the ruling Social Democratic and Liberal Parties -- might have seen the West German conservatives as its only friends here and might have helped topple Social Democratic Chancellor Schmidt. If Washington had followed this course, it would have dangerously polarized West German voters for and against the US.

As things stand now, Schmidt's coalition might in fact soon fall and yield government reins to the conservatives. At this point any such shift would clearly result from domestic political processes, however. There would be polarization, and American missiles would be an important issue. But they would not be the sole issue.

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