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Smaller nations join effort to ease East-West tensions

The leaderships of both East and West are apparently determined not to place all their hopes for better relations on the coming negotiations between the United States and the Soviet Union.

In an attempt to avoid a repetition of the nearly-complete rupture in contacts during the past year, diplomats from both camps have begun what is being referred to as ''the dialogue of the lesser gods.''

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The coming months will thus be marked not only by the resumption of superpower arms discussions next month in Geneva, but also by a flurry of other contacts between East and West. The most notable example is the visit to Britain this week by Soviet Politburo member Mikhail Gorbachev, thought to be the likely successor to Soviet leader Konstantin Chernenko.

The need for contacts other than the frustrating superpower arms control dialogue was a theme repeated frequently during last week's semiannual meeting of NATO foreign ministers.

Time after time, in their public encounters with the press, participants at the meeting echoed NATO Secretary-General Lord Carrington's declaration: As important as the forthcoming US-Soviet talks were, ''arms control talks cannot bear the brunt of the East-West relations.''

Participants underlined the importance of other East-West contacts: the negotiations on troop reductions in Europe, which resumed in Vienna last March; and the conference on ''confidence-building measures'' - steps such as mutual NATO/Warsaw Pact notification of large military maneuvers - which began in Stockholm last January.

But many officials also made it clear that other European states want to be involved in the effort to repair frayed relations.

Some contacts between smaller Eastern and Western European countries during the year have stressed that they had common interests not shared by Washington and Moscow and that they did not want their relations jeopardized by breakdowns in the superpower dialogue.

Even the highly publicized cancellation of a visit by East German leader Erich Honecker to West Germany last September at Soviet insistence, as well as other diplomatic mishaps, have not hampered the enthusiasm for such lower-level East-West encounters.

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West European foreign ministry officials also stress that they regard such contacts as a positive step toward strengthening a new detente process. Such meetings, they say, are not an attempt by the East to drive a wedge between Washington and its NATO allies.

The officials also reject allegations that such contacts represent neutralist tendencies. The US has also supported such overtures, although it has not been as involved as the Europeans.

Following up on a previous round of meetings between some European states, several West European nations have just announced similar plans. The foreign ministers of Britain, Belgium, Italy, France, West Germany, and even Canada have visited or are about to visit Moscow and other Warsaw Pact capitals in the coming months.

Officials and experts say a key obstacle to a sound rapprochement has been the East's policy to isolate West Germany and the West's to isolate Poland. Some nations on both sides, though, have already broken ranks to try to improve relations with those two nations.

Eastern and Western sources say that renewed efforts are underway to reschedule the postponed visit of West German Foreign Minister Hans Dietrich-Genscher to Poland.

Other officials have already visited or will visit Poland, and a Polish minister recently went to Belgium.

Also, some Western nations want to abandon the remaining economic and diplomatic sanctions imposed by NATO on Poland in the wake of the imposition of martial law there three years ago.

Another sign of the East-West thaw is the scheduled meeting in Paris this week between Poland and its Western creditors to reschedule Poland's debt repayments.

In the eyes of many officials this could be a major step toward resumption of more normal economic relations between Poland and the West. Such a renewal of ties could help prevent Warsaw from being pushed into what some Polish sources feel would be further isolation and ''neo-Stalinist'' hands.

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