Bonn — West Germany continues to straddle the fence between participation in President Reagan's research program into space-based defense and France's rival proposal called Eureka. And so long as Bonn straddles the fence, Europe straddles with it.
This became evident from briefings after West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl met Mr. Reagan May 2 for one hour alone and another hour with advisers.
Dr. Kohl's spokesman, Peter Boenisch, said that West Germany supports potential European cooperation in high technology if it would promote European cooperation with the US, but not if it would put a brake on transatlantic cooperation.
Mr. Boenisch did not mention by name the Eureka pooling of European high technology suggested by Paris two weeks ago. But his allusion was clear.
The French maintain that the civilian Eureka program would not compete with the military SDI -- but Eureka's list of priorities in technologies is all but indistinguishable from SDI's. It includes optics, glass and mirrors, launch mechanisms, space labs, infrared detection, and computation application.
No version of the Reagan-Kohl talks on SDI was available from the offical US briefer, who became irritated at journalists' wisecracks and stalked out of the briefing after 10 minutes.
In Europe SDI is widely deemed the most important noneconomic subject on the agenda for talks at and around the May 2 to 4 economic summit of the seven leading industrial democracies.
Indications so far are that the four European conference participants -- West Germany, Britain, France, and Italy -- plus Japan and possibly also Canada want to keep any reference to SDI in the summit communiqu'e at a very generalized level.
The US, by contrast, has been urging a more unambiguous endorsement of SDI.
In a televised interview after his meeting with Reagan, Kohl repeated Bonn's conviction that SDI research is justified. He also noted that Bonn will shortly send a delegation to the US to explore European participation in such research.
Boenisch also repeated Bonn's interest in establishing certain guidelines for any European participation in SDI research and any future development.
The most important guidelines, he repeated, are that:
There must be a two-way technology flow between Europe and the US;
And there must be no weakening of European security -- that is, no erosion of the present deterrence based on an offensive standoff -- until there is a sure defensive alternative.
Boenisch also specified that Bonn continues to stick to additional criteria it set forth in the past, specifically: that SDI must not undermine arms control and should be negotiable with the Soviet Union before any decision about deployment -- and SDI should preferably induce the kind of big offensive reductions that would make SDI deployment ``superfluous.''
The seven European nations that are members of the Western European Union -- the four European nations which are also present at the economic summit, plus the Benelux countries (Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg) -- failed to reach a unified position on SDI at their ministerial meeting in Bonn two weeks ago.
In general they share the strategic misgivings of the sort articulated in Bonn's guidelines for SDI. On the other hand, though, they all fear getting left even further behind the US and Japan technologically.
All are therefore eager to share in SDI research, not only to win commercial spinoff, but also to gain a voice in future deployment decisions.
However, the Europeans have so far been unable to agree on a common approach to their own participation in SDI.
This is partly because the high-technology capabilities of these countries are all different, and partly because the US has warned them not to form a united European position outside of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
All are currently seeking clarification as to what terms Washington has in mind for European participation in SDI.