Kohl tries to mend West split over Soviet ties
On his visit to Washington April 14 and 15, West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl is seeking to continue the rapport he already feels with President Reagan, while still presenting his government's preferences on East-West issues.
This is the picture drawn by a top Kohl aide of the first Washington visit by the conservative chancellor following his reelection in March.
It is not yet apparent just how easy or difficult Dr. Kohl's intention will make United States-West German relations. The main unknown is how hard a line toward Moscow the Reagan administration will want to get at next month's Western economic summit in Williamsburg.
If differences over restrictions on Western credits and technology flows to the Soviet bloc are left to the expert committees trying to wrestle out common concepts, the Williamsburg summit - and US-West German relations - can accentuate the positive. If Washington wishes to make these issues the centerpiece of the summit, however, a repetition of the debacle of last year's Versailles economic summit - and a rough patch in Bonn-Washington relations - is seen in Europe as foreordained.
In that debacle last year, the Reagan administration unilaterally extended US sanctions on gas-technology exports to the Soviet Union to West European suppliers which had already sold contracts to export compressors and pipe to build the new Siberia-to-Europe pipeline.
The sanctions were universally regarded by West Europeans in the whole range from left to right as a violation of West Europe's sovereignty. They were also widely regarded as an unwise attempt to declare economic warfare on the Soviet Union.
For five months this issue brought transatlantic relations to one of their postwar lows - until Washington removed the sanctions in return for agreement to write common East-West trade studies that are currently under way.
Since that agreement the Reagan administration's hope has been that the studies would totally bar subsidized Western credit to the Soviet bloc as well as the transfer of certain categories of nonmilitary high technology. West Europe and Japan have generally been willing to tighten restrictions on the high-tech exports which have military relevance, but not those which cannot be used for military purposes. And France in particular has refused to outlaw subsidized credits.
West Germany did not play a leading role in last year's East-West trade dispute. Then-Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, whose Social Democrats were suspected by Washington of being too soft on the Soviet threat in any case, left it to the impeccably conservative British prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, to be a major spokesman for the West European point of view.
The present conservative West German chancellor, however, would have to speak up on this issue in US-West German contacts, both in representing Bonn's own interests and as the current six-month president of the European Council. The Bonn government is therefore hoping that this will not be necessary, and that East-West trade will be one but not the major issue on the Williamsburg agenda.
Beside hoping for the sake of allied harmony that another West-West row does not develop on East-West trade, Bonn also entertains this hope for the sake of its own domestic peace. It puts top priority not on a crusade against the Soviet Union but on beginning the important stationing of new NATO nuclear missiles in Western Europe by this December if there is no US-Soviet arms-control agreement. To do this, it needs to persuade a reluctant West German public that the new missiles are needed - but do not add to dangers.
To this end, the Kohl government seeks as much dialogue and normal intercourse with the Soviet Union as possible. Particularly in a period when Moscow is stressing to West European public opinion how bad tensions are and therefore how dangerous new weapons are, Bonn would like to show that arms-control talks and civil discourse are still going on. In this context, the crucial 1983 ''year of the missile'' is not seen here as the best time for the West to fan economic or other confrontation with the Soviet Union.
It is in this context that Dr. Kohl will visit Moscow later this year. It is in this context that Bonn wishes as well to emphasize Western reasonableness in the Geneva negotiations. If the talks fail and the new NATO missiles are deployed, Bonn wants it to be clear that the reason for failure was Moscow and not the West.
The West German government would therefore welcome it, the Kohl aide suggested, if Paul Nitze, the chief US Euromissile arms-control negotiator, were now given wide authorization to explore any possible compromise (and not just any new initiatives proposed by the Soviets).
Similarly, the Kohl government would like to agree (with some changes) to the neutral nations' proposed draft for a final declaration to end the plodding Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe in Madrid. In particular, it would welcome such a declaration's paving of the way for a new conference on disarmament in Europe to open in the fall.