In what seems to be a an extraordinary breakdown in communications between the US and Western Europe, neither side knows for sure what the other is saying at the moment, literally or substantively. The result is confusion, worry, and bad tempers all around.
"Everyone is reeling under the Washington statements," commented one diplomat here. He was referring to repeated public criticism of Western European allies by President Carter and his national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, over the weekend.
As reported in West Germany, the criticism went so far as to imply a harsh threat: If Western Europe doesn't back the US strongly enough in the current Iran and Aghanistan crises, then the US might have to reconsider its commitment to defend Europe -- and specifically its commitment to defend and exposed West Berlin that is located 100 mile inside East Germany.
It is not yet clear here precisely what signals Washington has intended to give Europe. As of this writing the full text and context of Carter and Brzezinski remarks have apparently not reached West German officials. They are therefore largely dependent so far on sketchy press and diplomatic reporting of Mr. Carter's speech to the American Society of Newspaper Editors, his reception of West Berlin Mayor Dietrich Stobbe, his first interview with European reporters in two years, and Dr Brzezinski's sppech at the American Society of Newspaper Editors as well.
The German press reporting of these speeches and talks has been somber. Typically, the Bonn General Anzeiger called the White House remarks "the sharpest public criticism of the allies' behavior to date." It led its story with the observation that "in pressing for active solidarity of the allies in the Iran and Afghanistan crises the US has for the first time reminded [us] of its security guarantees for Berlin."
The Frankfurter Rundschau referred to an alleged remark by Dr. Brzezinski that it is now up to the Europeans to prevent World War III.
West German government spokesman Klaus Boelling told a press conference he was "sure that the critical [American] comments are not aimed at the Federal Republic" of Germany. Yet the news reported from Washington has certainly suggested a blanket reproach to all West Europeans, including the West Germans.
Western Europeans are perplexed and irritated by Washington's public scolding at the very moment when -- as they see it - they are moving to firmly support the US on Iran.
Western Europeans resist going as far s the US wants to go in exacting an economic price from the Soviet Union for the Soviet military invasion of Afghanistan. But in the case of the American diplomatic hostages in Iran -- West Germans at least believe they are fully backing the U.S.
So far the European allies and Japan have responded to a US request to recall their ambassadors from Tehran (not, as some news reports have stated, to break relations, diplomatic sources say) as a sign of their disapproval of Iran's violation of international law guaranteeing immunity to diplomats.
The US-European abrasions of the past few days have been aggravated by the ignorance this weekend about what the other side has actually been saying or meaning.
Bonn's lack of information about the American blasts is matched by Washington's lack of information about just how West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt has responded to the US criticism.
Some news-agency reports about state election speeches given by Chancellor Schmidt over the weekend in Hamburg and Essen indicated that Mr. Schmidt opposed American economic sanctions on Iran and, in effect, warned the US against rash action.
Such warnings would conflict with information on Iran policy available in Bonn, however, and the reportage was fragmentary and contradictory. This was partly because of traditional West German press inattention to events that happen between Friday-evening deadlines and Sunday mornings.
No texts of Mr. Schmidt's speeches were available in Bonn, either from the Chancellery or from Mr. Schmidt's Social Democratic Party. Nor were any high-ranking government officials immediately available to clarify what Mr. Dshmidt said. Traditional Easter vacations for high-ranking officials -- including Mr. Schmidt himself -- will end only April 14.