Belgrade talks chip at East-West ice
The numerous meetings between world leaders gathered here for President Tito's funeral left present East-West tensions to nearer solution. But they may have edged the international situation just a shade nearer an atmosphere in which further, more substantive talking will be easier to arrange.Skip to next paragraph
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They seemed to set a tone that could be useful when the foreign ministers of the United States and the Soviet Union journey to Vienna later this week for the 25th anniversary of the treaty that terminated Soviet-Western occupation of Austria after World War II.
The meetings in Belgrade were informal. Many were no more than brief encounters in the lobby -- or the elevators -- of the 500-room Intercontinental Hotel where the heads of most delegations stayed.
But some contact was made. Even the United States, which apparently misread the symbolic importance of the occasion and sent Vice-President Walter Mondale to stand in for President Carter, seemed aware of the consensus that such contact was not without purpose and significance.
The US, quite apart from the protocol at the funeral that placed Vice-President Walter Mondale about eight rows behind the flock of heads of state and government at the front, seemed quite removed from the whole scene.
It was an opportunity for moves, however minor and inconclusive in themselves , toward chipping away the ice that has chilled US-Soviet relations since the invasion of Afghanistan.
Nothing illustrated this more than the 90-minute talk between West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt and East Germany's Communist Party leader Erich Honecker. They met in the residence of the West German ambassador, which in itself was something of a gesture from the communist side. They met alone except for their respective note-takers.
(By all accounts, the atmosphere was extraordinarily "open and relaxed." Chancellor schmidt called it afterward a good "meeting man to man.")
Each had "cleared his lines" first. Mr. Schmidt had met with Vice-President Mondale and told him that his forthcoming visit to Moscow was not to be seen in any way as a "mission to mediate." West Germany, he said, is part of the Western alliance but sees a meeting with the Russians as a possible way to "bring some [ new] elements" to ease East-West tensions before they got further out of hand.
Western diplomats here believe the US has come around to that point of view.
For his part, Mr. Honecker had already had a meeting with Mr. Brezhnev. That done, the two Germanys found a considerable degree of common approach.
On bilateral issues, the two leaders approved the present level of relations and committed themselves to taking it further. On the international level, there were some unusual parallels in a shared anxiety to see detente moving again.
Both Germanys appreciate that they, more than anyone else, will be in the eye of the storm in the event of war. Mr. Schmidt and Mr. Honecker, it was said, had agreed that europe must continue to be " the center of peace in the world."
The Chancellor met also with Polish leader Edward Gierek and their Hungarian counterpart Janos Kadar.
All three meetings apparently left him convinced that the East Europeans are unusually protective of their own interests in urging renewal of dialogue between the superpowers. "We are telling Washington our view on this," the West German spokesman said, "and they are telling Moscow the same thing."
Black in Poland, Mr. Gierek said it again in a speech warmly friendly to West Germany. coming on the eve of the Warsaw Pact's anniversary summit in Warsaw May 14 and 15, the speech suggested some soviet initiative was forthcoming.
Whatever that may be, its is unlikely to go anywhere near resolving the outstanding issue of East-West tension -- Afghanistan (on which Mr. Schmidt stands as firmly as anyone else in the West, a point he will be making quite clear to Mr. Brezhnev later on).
The next real step could be when Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko and Mr. Muskie meet in Vienna.
Although that meeting is not expected to yield very much, it does afford a first opportunity since the Russians went into Afghanistan to open a line of communication between the superpowers and perhaps set the stage for a more substantive session of success of the German Chancellor's trip to the Kremlin in June or early July.