Kohl feels relief - and qualms - as he meets Reagan
West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl takes Europe's immense relief and a few nagging qualms to his summit with President Reagan today. There is relief because the superpowers are finally talking nuclear arms control again, after a year's hiatus. There are qualms because there's always a dormant worry that when the superpowers get together, they might just make a deal at the expense of Europe.
For the moment relief verging on euphoria is in the ascendant. There is ''a clear recognition,'' in the words of one senior West European diplomat here, that the Russians are coming back to the negotiating table ''surprisingly quickly and unambiguously.''
He summed up the European reaction as, ''It's a very good thing that Reagan's policy of seeking dialogue on the basis of strong security has worked, and the Russians are coming back exactly a year after walking out (out of nuclear arms control negotiations). And it's good news that the loss of face and indeed loss of position by the Russians (from NATO's deployment of missiles this year) hasn't caused them to be truculently intransigent, at least on the matter of whether you have talks.''
Dr. Kohl in particular is picking up domestic points from the forthcoming Soviet-American foreign ministers meeting in Geneva by claiming some credit for prodding Washington and Moscow to this revival of big-power dialogue. To the demoralized antinuclear movement here he stresses that NATO's new Pershing IIs - some 50 of which have already been stationed in West Germany this past year - haven't prevented the Russians from returning to the table after all. West Germany's firmness helped Moscow realize this necessity, he contends.
Accompanying German pleasure at superpower dialogue, however, is a certain anxiety lest there be superpower inclination to settle European affairs over the heads of the Europeans.
In the forthcoming Soviet-American talks, which combine strategic and Euromissile arms control, West German diplomats would not like to see any global nuclear balance struck that would leave a conspicuous European nuclear imbalance. Nor would they like the superpowers to assume exclusive competence in what have hitherto been multilateral negotiations (such as conventional reductions and confidence-building measures in Europe, both of which have been mentioned as possible Soviet-American topics).
In general, Britain and France are less wary of possible superpower deals than West Germany is. They are, however, eager to see agreed limitations on ''star wars'' antimissile defenses, since any star-wars regime would render present British and French nuclear missiles (and deterrence) obsolete.
The ambivalent European wish for and potential misgivings about the Soviet-American dialogue lead to occasional confusion in the signals given out. Politicians are not as sensitized to the new cautions as are professional diplomats.
''You then get the old trend (in West Germany) of goading the Americans to (negotiate),'' comments one diplomat. ''People put it in their tape bank, press the button, but without changing the tape.''
German enthusiasm for Soviet-American contact is engendered in part by the expectation that it should eventually ease East-West German contact. During the first eight months of this year East German leader Erich Honecker conducted a mini-detente with Bonn that was remarkable for its contrast to Soviet-Western tensions after NATO began deploying new missiles a year ago.
In the face of Soviet disapproval Mr. Honecker finally had to pull back on his planned maiden visit to West Germany in September; since then he has been more circumspect.
On the one hand he continues to sing the virtues of detente and to negotiate with West Germans toward cultural, environmental, and other agreements. And he is continuing to permit greatly increased emigration by East Germans to West Germany. More than 36,000 have legally resettled in West Germany already this year, three times last year's figure.
Moreover, Honecker has moderated a longstanding demand that Bonn ''acknowledge'' separate East German citizenship, now asking only that Bonn ''respect'' this citizenship. Also, while border fortifications to keep East Germans from escaping remain formidable, the most inhumane of these - the automatic shrapnel guns - have now been dismantled along all but four kilometers of the East-West German boundary, according to West German officials.
On the other hand, the East German news media are repeating much more of this year's Soviet, Polish, and Czechoslovak charges of West German ''revanch-ism'' than they used to do (even if they are still avoiding their allies' virulence). And they are somewhat less forthcoming in resolving the cases of would-be East German emigrants who are sitting in West German embassies in Prague, Warsaw, Budapest, and Bucharest.
Close to two-thirds of the 200-odd squatters who began occupying the embassies two months ago have been persuaded to return home by promises that they would not be prosecuted for trying to leave East Germany, according to West German sources.
This fall's promises, however, unlike previous practice, have not included East Berlin's assurance of eventual permission to emigrate.
It is still far too early to know how much the resumed superpower dialogue might in fact ease inter-German relations. West German diplomats say they are already getting feelers from the East Germans about rescheduling Honecker's visit sometime next year. It is not clear how realistic this is, though.