West Germany's first official comment on El Salvador is certain to disappoint the Reagan administration. True, Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher condemned attempts by "communist states" to expand their influence in Central America by "unpeaceful means."
But at the same time the West German government stressed its desire to promote "dialogue" between "democratic forces" in "both camps" in El Salvador.
The West German statement falls well short of the dramatic American rhetoric of "drawing the line" in El Salvador. It does not even match French Foreign Minister Jean Francois-Poncet's Feb. 23 condemnation of "external interference" and "interventionism" by "the East" in El Salvador.
Diplomatic sources have indicated that the US had hoped for stronger West German criticism of the flow of communist arms to Salvadoran insurgents.
The Feb. 25 joint statement by Mr. Genscher and visiting Costa Rican Foreign Minister Bernd Niehous Quesada, while condemning communist use of "nonpeaceful means" in Central America did not elaborate. And the West German Cabinet statement of Feb. 25 did not declare an opinion on this issue at all. It expressed only "understanding for the American concern about developments in El Salvador and the influence of communist states on the internal situation of the land."
West Germany's public reserve on El Salvador is especially disappointing to the US because diplomats had thought something approaching a common understanding had been reached in last week's talks between US Ambassador Lawrence Eagleburger and Foreign Minister Genscher.
In the view expressed prior to the Feb. 25 West German declarations, the West Germans recognized a need to stop "external subversion of a legitimate government," as one diplomat put it. At the same time, the Americans (after Eagleburger's talks) shared in the "growing consensus that it is terribly important not to play this as an anti-communist crusade. That would find little sympathy in European public opinion."
In addition, in this view, the acknowledged differences of focus between the US and West Germany were not inherently in conflict. The West Germans could accede to the American priority on ending external subversion. The Americans, while skeptical, could accede to the West German priority on broadening the base of Salvadoran government as a prerequisite for stopping external subversion.
In this context, the West German government could have condemned the channeling of communist arms to Salvadoran insurgents in sober unemotional terms -- while still urging a political solution in that country. So far, however, Bonn is still hedging its criticism of the arms flow.
West Germany has indicated that it will channel its aid to Salvadorans through the Red Cross, in an effort to ensure that supplies go to humanitarian rather than insurgent use. This follows similar European Community assurances to the US.
A West German government spokesman has indicated that Bonn still wants to do whatever it can to promote talks between the Salvadoran right and left. The original hope was that such talks might take place during the planned visit of Salvadoran government head Jose Napoleon Duarte to an international gathering of Christian Democrats in Europe next month. Duarte, however, has reportedly cancelled this trip because of domestic difficulties.