Kohl's US Visit Seeks to Mend Rifts Over Gulf

Chancellor comes for first time as leader of a reunited Germany - with higher aspirations

WHEN German Chancellor Helmut Kohl begins a long overdue visit to Washington on Monday, he will have a two-fold mission. One part involves fence mending as a result of a period of strained relations brought on by Germany's delayed reactions to the Gulf war. The other involves an exchange of views on international issues, such as the Middle East, instability in Moscow, uncertainty in Eastern Europe, and the global economy.

Mr. Kohl will be making his first visit to the United States as chancellor of a reunited Germany, a bigger economic and strategic power that must accept more ``responsibility'' in world affairs, as Kohl himself suggests.

Officials from both countries point out that the East-West conflict that dominated discussion between Bonn and Washington has faded into history.

``Now our partnership has to live on its own value,'' says a German government official.

``We have to arrive at a new basis of understanding of what our relationship is about,'' adds a US official in Bonn.

In this two-day visit, the Germans want to address the criticisms directed at them by the US Congress and news media and assure Americans that Bonn is a reliable and grateful ally.

Aside from seeing President Bush, Kohl will speak with US representatives and senators, breakfast with columnists, and give a speech at Georgetown University. He will be accompanied by Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher, who met with Secretary of State James Baker III in Washington just last week.

The Germans have ``a lot of questions to answer,'' says the US official here. ``In some circles,'' he says, ``there are residual resentments'' over the Gulf war - but also on issues such as the breakdown in world trade talks.

The ``resentment'' applies mostly to Congress, though in a controversial speech given by Sen. Richard Lugar (R) of Indiana in Dresden last month, the senator hinted otherwise.

``The US government ... puts a good face on matters by reassuring German politicians,'' he said. ``But to believe that the US president, the secretary of state, etc., are not quietly disappointed with Bonn misses a key point in dealing with Americans.''

According to a senior official in Bonn, one of Kohl's main messages will be that Germany is indeed committed to global burden-sharing, even if Americans don't perceive this to be true. Not only did Bonn contribute crucial logistical support, and cash contributions and material worth $11 billion for the Gulf war, but it is single-handedly paying for the removal of Soviet troops from east German soil, a benefit to NATO.

And while Americans complain that Bonn is fixated on reunification, the Germans point out that the successful transformation of east Germany into a prospering market economy is a benefit for Europe.

``A lot in Eastern Europe depends on things turning out [in east Germany] - and not just because of trade, but also psychologically,'' says the senior official.

Stabilizing Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union will be a major item for discussion during Kohl's visit. The Germans have sent 57 billion marks ($33.5 billion) to Moscow since 1989 in credits, goods (such as foodstuff), and compensation for troop withdrawal. The Germans see a multilateral effort as the only way to support reform in the Soviet Union.

One result of last week's Genscher-Baker meeting was to agree that NATO could play a key role in aiding Moscow and its former satellites. Steps endorsed by both countries include inviting Soviets and East Europeans to NATO for training programs and providing expertise on the conversion of defense industries to peaceful purposes.

The Middle East is another agenda item. Above all, the Germans want to show support for US peace efforts in the region.

``What matters now is that the US mission succeeds,'' says the senior official. ``We shouldn't disturb the process by European prestige,'' he says, meaning insistence that the European Community have a seat at a Middle East peace conference.

The Americans, meanwhile, hope the Germans can use their influence with their European partners to push the US view on two other issues which will be discussed: European security and world trade.

Washington has no objection to a Europe that is united economically and politically and that has a common security policy. Washington also generally accepts the idea of a stronger European voice within NATO.

But it is suspect of a European security policy that may eventually act independently of NATO and where NATO might not have the final word.

Washington is also looking for a breakthrough on the world trade talks, known as the Uruguay round, which collapsed over the winter when the European Community refused to substantially cut agriculture subsidies. The US has been pushing for the cuts for years, but to no avail.

Bonn has recently come closer to the US view on the trade and security issues. In American eyes, both issues provide a chance for the Germans to act as ``partners in leadership,'' as Mr. Bush characterized the relationship. According to the US official, Kohl has indicated willingness to help ``behind the scenes'' on the trade talks. ``It's a matter of letting us know how he thinks he can do that and when.''

But the Germans caution the US not to overestimate Bonn's ability to sway EC decisions. Germany is one member of 12 and the US ``can't expect us to play a role which will bring us difficulty with our European partners,'' says the senior German official.

The other German official says there is a basic misunderstanding about what ``partners in leadership'' means.

``This term was not coined by us,'' he says. ``We're ready for leadership, but we don't define it as Americans define it.''

While America can forge ahead on its own, Germany must operate with constant consideration of its European neighbors. To say, for example, that the trade talks can't go forward ``because Kohl isn't bringing along the French'' is an oversimplification, the official says. ``It's not that easy.''

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