West Germany speaks softly on Poland, but wields bigger stick

In response to continued repression in Poland, West Germany finds itself speaking more cautiously but acting more firmly than other West European allies.

Bonn announced its further ''sanctions'' -- it prefers the term ''political signals'' -- on Feb. 17. They include:

Refusal to open a new Soviet consulate in West Germany; suspension of negotiations with the Soviet Union on further scientific technological and shipping agreements; curtailment of official bilateral visits with the Soviet Union and Poland; and more restrictions on official Soviet and Polish activities or participation in activities in West Germany.

The measures also include strict (rather than generous) observance of the Soviet-West German treaty on economic cooperation. This means, for example, a foreign ministry official explained, that subcommittees which are not specifically designated in the treaty will no longer be able to meet. It does not mean there will be any interference with signed commercial contracts such as those in the billion dollar Soviet-West German gas pipeline deal.

West Germany will also continue to adhere to those commercial measures agreed on by the European Community. These involve -- in what is probably the single most effective lever of pressure on Warsaw and Moscow -- a declared freeze on new credits to Poland and an effective freeze to other East European countries.

The West German government had informed its allies of its measures at the Feb. 3 NATO meeting that drew up a menu of Poland ''sanctions'' for individual decision by member nations. It has held off announcing these steps publicly, however, in hopes of doing so in tandem with other European countries. The reluctance of France and Italy to make a public presentation of their measures thwarted this.

West Germany is thus left in a position reminiscent of its position after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan two years ago. At that time, too, Bonn spoke more cautiously but acted more firmly than other European allies in sending Moscow ''political signals'' of its displeasure. This included boycotting the Olympics (which France, Britain, and Italy attended).

Now a similar situation has arisen. Both France and Italy are holding back on declaring ''measures'' toward the Soviet Union and Poland, and Britain is the only other major European state to have made a public announcement of its ''measures.''

By comparison, West German steps go beyond the British steps in shrinking ongoing cooperation or talks. The British suspended negotiations under a three-decade-old shipping treaty that they felt was to their disadvantage anyway. The West Germans have suspended negotiations that were in fact expected to lead to expanded Soviet-West German cooperation in the fields of science, technology, transport, and environment. Rejection of a Soviet consulate in Munich also disappoints a real Soviet expectation.

In addition, West German officials note that some requested visits by Polish officials to West Germany have been denied or shortened.

The greatest possible Western impact on events in Poland would come, of course, from the freeze on new credit for Poland already agreed on by the Western allies. It is Bonn's hope that the solidarity of the West in this area will exert cumulative pressure for a moderate course in Poland.

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