East-West German detente: Poland threatens outcome
Biesenthal, East Germany
This time around, the East-West German summit was disturbed by Polish events after, not before, it began. West German sources are still hoping that the new bilateral understandings reached in 15 hours of intensive talks between West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt and East German state and party chief Erich Honecker can survive the state of emergency in Poland.
''The long-postponed meeting of the two leaders was the first East-West German summit on German soil since the two states normalized relations over a decade ago.''
A prolonged emergency in Poland - and certainly any civil war and any Soviet-East German intervention there - could make it impossible for Honecker to fulfill his share in improving relations with West Germany, however. The pressure for an ideological crackdown in East Germany would be enormous - and this would affect precisely that expansion of contacts between East and West German citizens that Bonn is counting on.
No such humanitarian gestures have been announced in the bilateral framework because of East German sensitivity about its sovereignty and its insistence on deciding issues unilaterally. The West German side expects some gestures, however, and the final joint communique alluded to ''continued'' efforts ''in a constructive spirit'' to rejoin divided families, especially in hardship cases.
The communique further referred to the problem of cross-border visits and to the East German raising of the fee for West German visitors 14 months ago. The fee was doubled and in some cases quadrupled in October of 1980; as a result the number of West Berliners traveling to East Berlin has dropped some 40 percent since then. West Germany has been eager to see a reduction in the fee at least for children and the elderly.
The communique also confirmed that some of the Soviet natural gas to be purchased by West Germany under the recent multibillion-dollar deal will be conducted to West Berlin, as West Germany has insisted.
For its part West Germany has already made unilateral gestures in the past few days to improve East-West German relations. West Germay has always sought to buy better humanitarian relations by economic credits - and it is doing this again by extending the expiring several-million-mark interest-free ''swing'' trade credits for another six months.
At the concluding press conference near the East German meeting site, West German Economics Minister Otto Lambsdorff specifically linked this move to expectations of improvement in contacts between East and West German citizens. He also referred to the hope for some lowering of the age - currently retirement age - at which East German citizens are permitted to travel to the West.
Beyond the economic-humanitarian trade-off, Schmidt calculates that conferring of new prestige on the East German leadership through the summit could induce more East-West German human contact. With this meeting he has been hoping to make East-West German summits a routine occurrence comparable to his meetings with Polish, Hungarian, and other East European leaders.
The declaration of a state of emergency in Poland caught Schmidt and Honecker in the last hours of their three days of talks at Dollnsee, northeast of Berlin and less than 20 miles from the Polish border.
The planned German summit was canceled twice last year, first because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and then because of the Soviet threat of intervention in Poland. Had the Polish emergency been declared three days earlier, it is likely that the summit would have been postponed yet again.
Now West German sources hope that the new East-West German relationship can be preserved short of some Warsaw Pact intervention in Poland.
At the press conference Schmidt made clear the importance his government places on noninterference by other nations in Poland's internal affairs.
In the course of the talks Honecker had warned that East-West German relations could not remain an ''island'' of detente in the midst of worsening general East-West relations. His context was implementation of the NATO decision to deploy new nuclear weapons in two years if there is no progress in the ongoing superpower arms control talks.
In the context of Polish development, however, Honecker's words invoke the Western concept of linkage, under which intervention in Poland could damage not only further East-West German normalization but also those fledgling arms control talks in Geneva.
Both Germanys know that their summit was a gamble, given the uncertainties of Poland and East-West relations. They considered it worth the risk, however, even the possible suspicion of their respective superpower patrons that some pan-German deal might be in process behind the superpowers' backs.
Schmidt may have aroused some American annoyance by suggesting that it would be interesting if Honecker had met six or seven times with an American president as Schmidt has done with Soviet President Brezhnev.
He was apparently showing deference to his host, who is incomparably more dependent on Moscow than is Schmidt on Washington. The notion of Reagan-Honecker talks is altogether alien to Washington, however.
In the summit the sometimes visibly nervous Honecker also gambled that increased East-West German warmth would not undermine authority in East Germany. In this he prevailed over harder-line voices in his own Politburo, sources say.