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West German leader urging US to stick to softer tone on Soviets

By Elizabeth PondStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / February 28, 1984


West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl will be carrying one major message and one outside hope on his visit to Washington March 3 to 6. The message is that the West should keep the initiative vis-a-vis the Soviet Union.

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The hope is that the succession in the Kremlin may give the continuing collective leadership there an excuse to moderate its counterproductive confrontation with the West over Euromis-siles.

The further hope - which has been revived since President Yuri Andropov's death - is that the Kremlin may still swallow its pride in time and deem it better to meet with President Reagan before rather than after his probable reelection.

This is the outlook in Bonn as constructed from conversations with chancellery officials and allied diplomats.

In Washington Dr. Kohl will, of course, begin by exchanging congratulations with his friend and political and temperamental look-alike, Ronald Reagan, over the successful start of NATO Euromissile deployments on schedule at the end of last year.

The two men will agree that momentum is working for rather than against the allies. The initial deployments are no longer a bitter controversy but have become a fait accompli.

They have thus finally been accepted as routine by the West German population - and the war scare that preceded their deployment has been abating, since world tensions have not risen after their deployment.

And this means that a resistant public no longer has to be exhorted to move off an immobile status quo.

Furthermore, the Soviet Union has been on the public defensive ever since it walked out of the nuclear arms control talks three months ago in protest at the NATO deployment. It is now the West that is visibly ready to negotiate on arms control at any time. It is Moscow that is visibly balking.

At this point, therefore - Kohl and Reagan will agree - quieter rhetoric in Bonn and Washington will do nicely.

So far so good.

The trickier discussions will come as the two leaders try to decide what to do next.

Here Kohl's advice will be that the West should not rest on its laurels and slip back into a cycle in which it is Moscow that makes peace proposals and the West that reacts negatively to them.

The West gained in public opinion by pressing for the current Stockholm confidence-building conference against Soviet reluctance, Kohl believes. It should continue to impress on the public its commitment to peace - and let any Soviet recalcitrance be shown for what it is.

Reagan's response to this counsel may depend a good deal on just what initiatives Kohl has in mind. But the feeling in the chancellery - especially after Kohl's meeting with US Vice-President George Bush in Moscow - is that Reagan should find such an approach compatible with his own current overture to Moscow.

Significantly, the West Germans date this overture not from the President's Jan. 16 speech, but from his excoriation in words but restraint in action in responding to the Soviet shooting down of the Korean airliner last September. (Significantly, too, they express some surprise at the extent to which they find the Soviets ready to credit the change in American rhetoric.)