President Jose Napoleon Duarte's trip to Europe this week portends a thaw in relations between the Salvadorean government and NATO allies, say European diplomats in the Salvadorean capital and Foreign Minister Jorge Eduardo Tenorio.
''This trip will break the ice,'' asserts Dr. Tenorio, sitting in his ornately decorated rococo-style office in the Foreign Ministry.
''We will have direct contact with the chiefs of state of these countries to normalize our diplomatic relations.''
The foreign minister says El Salvador hopes to win ''economic cooperation'' from Europe and to ''demonstrate the democratic character of the Duarte government. ''We will show occidental Europe the true image of El Salvador,'' he says.
High-level European diplomats in San Salvador, who request anonymity, concur with Dr. Tenorio that the Duarte government may usher in a period of cooperation between Europe and El Salvador.
The West German government - whose leader, Helmut Kohl, met with Duarte Tuesday - has already promised $17.8 million in economic assistance to the Duarte government. This money will be used to ensure import credits for private businesses.
No other European country has yet promised economic assistance. But President Duarte, who has been in office just 11/2 months, also is scheduled to meet with French President Francois Mitterrand, Portuguese Prime Minister Mario Soares, and European Commission President Gaston Thorn. He may also meet British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
The European Community, especially France and the Netherlands, have been critical of Salvadorean human rights abuses and the failure of earlier Salvadorean governments to seek a negotiated settlement to the civil war here. Their representatives here say they intend to watch the human rights situation and movements by the new government toward a dialogue with the insurgents before making any commitments.
A clandestine meeting in Lisbon in late June between two of Duarte's closest associates and insurgent political leader Guillermo Ungo has impressed several members of the European diplomatic corps. They think it may indicate Duarte is serious about attempting a negotiated end to the civil war.
Salvadorean guerrilla insurgents apparently have received some limited economic support from a few European countries. The rebels administer an agency known as DAZ-PAZ, which is in Mexico city and which, they contend, funnels humanitarian aid into rebel-occupied zones. Rebel sources say that the Netherlands, Sweden, and West Germany have all contributed to DAZ-PAZ.
West Germany, Sweden, Austria, Spain, and France also have supported the efforts the political arm of the rebel movement, the Democratic Revolutionary Front (FDR), to open talks with the government. They have dissented from the Reagan administration's portrayal of Central American conflict as essentially an East-West confrontation and have sent aid to the Sandinista government in Nicaragua.
France and Mexico dramatically bolstered the credibility of the Salvadorean guerrillas in 1981 when they signed a joint declaration recognizing the FDR as ''a representative political force'' that must take part in future negotiations to end the conflict. The declaration called for the restructuring of El Salvador's armed forces before ''authentically free'' elections could be held.