When Germanys get together

The East-West German summit came and went with most eyes on the more dramatic headlines about Libya or Poland. But the summit, the first in 11 years, deserves note since the two Germanys occupy what continues to be the most strategic spot in Europe.

The meeting may have been impelled in part by West German political pressures on Chancellor Helmut Schmidt not to let German detente languish in the face of larger East-West tensions. It did not conclude with any ringing declarations. But it is important for its symbolism - not to mention expected ripples of concrete results - in a context that reaches beyond the Germanys to international peace.

As East German leader Erich Honecker said: ''We cannot uncouple ourselves from world relations, but we can, each in his own way, make a substantial contribution to improvement of the international climate.''

Or as Mr. Schmidt put it, speaking of the current Geneva arms reduction talks: ''For the very reason that World War II sprang from German soil, we Germans cannot and may not limit ourselves to the role of interested spectators.''

It was no surprise that Mr. Honecker should take the occasion to caution Mr. Schmidt about accepting a new wave of American missiles in West Germany. Mr. Schmidt was believed to have left no doubt he was committed to the deployment plan unless modified by the arms negotiations.

The task for the two leaders was to find common ground beyond their respective commitments to Eastern and Western alliances. They announced they would continue to work toward agreement on matters of trade and travel between East and West Germany.

West Germany has extended the interest-free trade credits that help East Germany do business with it. Bonn made clear that it had expectations, in turn, of eased contacts between East and West Germans. As it is, most West Germans have been saddled with a fourfold increase in the amount of West German money they have to exchange and spend on visits to East Germany. Reductions or exemptions might be made for certain categories such as the young and old. Few East Germans are permitted to leave their country until they reach retirement age. East Germany could make a significant gesture by meeting West German hopes of reducing the age limit, but this does not appear likely soon.

Nevertheless, more economic and humanitarian links could be found if meetings like the recent summit become less extraordinary occurrences. After years of considerable progress East Germany's economy is facing various problems. One is higher-priced oil owing to a reduction in the subsidized supplies obtained from Moscow. So Mr. Honecker has economic reason for pursuing detente with his neighbor. With so many Germans remaining prisoners on West Germany's doorstep, Mr. Schmidt has ample reason for pursuing it too. The summit becomes a small constructive symbol to put beside the looming Berlin Wall.

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