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Mr. Kohl comes calling

HE doesn't speak English, and so his advance team has despaired of getting the American TV networks to pay much attention to him. But the message West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl has brought with him on his visit to Washington this week is one that deserves attention at this important post-Reykjavik moment.

Yes, we're interested in cuts in nuclear weapons, he has urged; but if they are undertaken without corresponding cuts in conventional forces, Western Europe will be left exposed to the numerically superior Warsaw Pact forces.

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There is irony in this, of course. Europeans want the two superpowers to get along -- but not so well that the US military deterrent protecting Europe is allowed to slip.

The midrange Euromissiles that Mr. Kohl's predecessor, Helmut Schmidt, got his country to accept only after the expenditure of considerable political capital have been one of the most divisive issues in NATO, causing friction between and within member countries, and even within political parties.

And now that the reduction of these missiles looms as a possibility, many Europeans are having to think twice about just what their response should be.

Beefing up their own conventional forces would appear to be an element of that response. But European members, particularly Germany, are already bearing a heavier share of the NATO burden, including conscript armed forces, than Americans generally acknowledge.

It is certainly appropriate at this time for the United States to give its NATO allies clear signals that the US-European defense link is absolutely primary, US trade ties to Asia notwithstanding.

Too often, Europeans have heard troubling rumbles from Congress about pulling US troops out of Europe, and Mr. Reagan is but the latest in a succession of US Presidents who have rattled NATO allies with Lone Ranger diplomacy.

But clear US signals of the importance of European ties will make it easier politically for Europeans, Kohl in particular, to continue stressing their ties to the US, free of pressure (from the Greens and others) toward some ill-conceived ``Euroneutrality.'' So will judicious American moves on arms control.

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Kohl, facing elections in January, enjoys a comfortable lead in the polls. But a US-Soviet accord to cut back Euromissiles could be a big political plus for Kohl, not only of itself, but because it would defuse criticism that Kohl's allegedly ``vassal-like'' support for US defense policies has helped enable Reagan to resist compromise with the Soviets.

Kohl has been in the forefront leading the cheers for the instant-replay revisionist view of the Reykjavik meeting as a ``success'' and an ``opportunity,'' rather than a diplomatic short circuit. Like the NATO defense ministers, meeting this week in Scotland, he has voiced, along with his concerns, his official confidence that the US won't do anything rash. Now it's up to the US to live up to that confidence.

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