Reagan-Schmidt talks tiptoe around tensions

President Reagan and Chancellor Helmut Schmidt apparently are determined to emphasize the positive in their current meetings here. For a combination of reasons, both the American and the West German leader must make their relationship, and the Western alliance, appear to be working.

On the political defensive at home, Mr. Schmidt must demonstrate that he knows how to deal with West Germany's major ally and that Mr. Reagan has an understanding of his problems.

President Reagan looks out on a uncertain world. Several key allied leaders -- in West Germany, Japan, Britain, and France -- are either on the defensive or in the midst of change. No pillar of American alliances is more important than West Germany, and it is essential to Reagan that he show his support for Schmidt at this time. A reaffirmation of the American commitment to arms control negotiations with the Soviets was one result of the two leaders' morning meeting in the White House on May 21. This should please some detente-minded West Germans.

At the same time, a special effort is being made to avoid some of the tensions and misunderstandings that marred Schmidt's relationship with President Carter. A senior White House official once said that Schmidt and Carter got off to a bad start partly because of economic policies which the Americans were trying to impose on the Germans but which the Germans considered inflationary, and partly because Schmidt had little respect for Carter's approach to the American economy. Schmidt is said to be happy that Reagan is giving the highest priority to economic matters.

Schmidt, the Social Democrat, and Reagan, the Republican, would seem to have little in common ideologically except for a shared concern over Soviet military strength. But a State Department official said that the West German leader has reacted positively to Reagan's economic moves to "American vigor in defense efforts," and to "the fact that the US is now looking outward in global affairs."

On the American side, there is an appreciation that of all the key allies at the moment, Chancellor Schmidt has been perhaps the most stalwart defender of the allied decision to deploy new American nuclear weapons in Western Europe.

A high-ranking Reagan administration official said that in their May 21 meeting at the White House Reagan and Schmidt discussed, among other things, the outcome of the recent election in France, the Reagan economic program, East-West relations, and the chancellor's recent trip to the Middle East. Considerable attention was paid to Schmidt's concern over America's high interest rates. The administration official said that President Reagan expressed the hope that through his economic program, interest rates would come down.

According to the official, the President reaffirmed that the US plans to move forward both with the modernization of nuclear weapons for the defense of Western Europe and the opening of talks with the Soviets on the control of such weapons. US Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. and Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei A. Gromyko are to make the arrangements for such talks at a meeting next September, to be held at the United N ations in New York.

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