US and East Germany: careful dialogue

It seems only fitting that Secretary of State George Shultz should meet with East German Foreign Minister Oskar Fischer. Politically, militarily, and economically East Germany is far and away the preeminent East-bloc nation besides the Soviet Union itself. The task now for the United States and East Germany is to follow through as swiftly as possible in establishing a framework for continuing talks, as apparently agreed upon by both sides last week.

The Fischer-Shultz meeting comes after earlier talks between Mr. Shultz and Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko. And, of course, after the Reagan-Gromyko visit. Without making too much of the talks between Mr. Shultz and his East German counterpart (which lasted only around 45 minutes), it is clearly in the best interest of both sides to maintain a cordial dialogue.

The meeting was the first such get-together at the foreign ministry level since 1978. East Germany, to the discomfort of many Soviet officials, has been pushing its own version of ''mini-detente'' with West Germany. Precisely because East German party chief Erich Honecker was recently forced to postpone a planned visit to Bonn - a cancellation believed to have resulted from Soviet pressure - such contacts as the Fischer-Shultz meeting take on added weight.

Americans ought not overlook East Germany's uniqueness. On a per capita basis , the productive 17 million people of East Germany have the highest standard of living in the Warsaw Pact. East Germany has the highest rate of economic growth. And geographically tucked in, as it is, between energetic West Germany and financially and politically troubled Poland, East Germany occupies a crucial niche on the map of Europe.

Some analysts believe that a mood of ''quiet despair'' is marking current East German society - stemming from public resentment over rigid state controls. In other words, many East Germans eagerly want a sense of hope - including better relations with the West.

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