The United States is trying to generate a Western consensus on limitations to East-West trade. West Germany is trying to fit whatever economic guidelines may thus emerge into a broader (and less negative) overall political approach to the new Soviet leadership. How far both sides succeed in their efforts will depend essentially on France.
This was the state of play on the first day of US Secretary of State George Shultz's relatively leisurely 13-day seven-capital European swing, Dec. 7-19.
Mr. Shultz's maiden trip to Europe as secretary of state opens in Bonn with two days of meetings with West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher, former Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, and other dignitaries.
From here Shultz will go to Brussels for a NATO foreign ministers' meeting Dec. 9 and a clash with the European Community (EC) over agricultural imports Dec. 10. After that he proceeds to The Hague (representing the smaller European countries), Rome, Paris, Madrid (to show that American support for Spain's fledgling democracy extends to embracing a Socialist government there), and London.
The visit is conceived of both as an aid to rallying common Western policy toward the new leadership in the Kremlin and as a chance for Shultz to get better acquainted with colleagues he has had only a few opportunities to see so far.
At a joint Shultz-Genscher press conference Dec. 7 the American secretary of state repeated Washington's eagerness to have already agreed-on studies on guidelines for East-West trade completed as soon as possible, in a matter of months. He said that it would be primarily existing institutions that would be entrusted with these studies on (1) the overall East-West economic relationship; (2) Western credit for Soviet bloc countries; (3) Cocom (coordinating committee) restrictions on Western technology exports that could aid the Soviet bloc militarily; (4) Western export of other advanced technology, including especially oil and gas equipment; and (5) Western energy demand and supply.
Shultz gave no clues about how restrictive or permissive the studies and proposals might be, however.
For his part Genscher stressed the broader political context of East-West relations - deliberately, according to West German diplomatic sources. He repeated the phrase that has gained currency here in the past few days of a ''policy of the outstretched hand.''
As explained by Genscher and other West German diplomats this policy is simply a message to Moscow that any friendly gestures on its part (such as pulling out of Afghanistan, for example) would be reciprocated by friendly gestures from the West.
Now that the US has lifted its five-month-long sanctions against Western European firms in retaliation for their export of US-licensed gas-pump technology to the Soviet Union, the US and West German positions are relatively close on overall issues of East-West trade, according to diplomats from both countries.
Much more difficult will be reconciliation of the French and American positions. The French did their best to prevent the Americans from saving face in finally lifting the sanctions by broadcasting that there was no link between the end to sanctions and the prospective common Western strategy on East-West trade. The French also have no intention of dropping their subsidized credit to the Soviet bloc, though they have moved closer to the American position on high technology exports, according to American sources.