Wanted by Europe: US arms-control initiative
The West German government would like to see an American initiative very soon at the Euromissile arms-control talks in Geneva, according to a high official here.
The official said this desire had been conveyed to the United States government before the re-election of conservative Chancellor Helmut Kohl on March 6. He added it would be conveyed again in all bilateral foreign ministry, defense ministry, and executive-level contacts in the next few weeks.
He indicated the strong West German interest in an American initiative is shared not only by France, but also by Britain and Italy, the other allies scheduled to begin deployments of 572 new NATO missiles by the end of this year.
In the absence of any prior arms-control agreement, the missiles are to be stationed in Europe over the next five years in reply to the new Soviet threat of some 340 SS-20s (with some 670 warheads targeted on Europe).
The West German official also expressed the hope that the decisive election victory of the staunch pro-American Kohl not be misinterpreted by Americans as giving NATO a green light to deploy the new Euromissiles without vigorous accompanying arms-control efforts.
He expected a long, hot summer of potentially violent antinuclear demonstrations in this country prior to the December deployments. He thought, however, that visible American efforts for arms control in the next 10 months could help minimize the impact of these demonstrations on West German public opinion.
The official warmly welcomed President Reagan's indication of US flexibility in the Feb. 22 American Legion speech. In that speech, Mr. Reagan said the current US negotiating position in Geneva is no take-it-or-leave-it offer.
That was just the right signal, the West German thought, for a period prior to the Bonn election - when Moscow would still be awaiting the outcome of that election and therefore would not respond to any more concrete compromise offer from Washington.
With the election past, the official continued, the time has come for the next step to be usefully taken. This would mean authorizing US negotiator Paul Nitze not only to explore any Soviet compromise offers, but also to explore any possibilities of compromise whatsoever.
The optimal timing for this next move, the official believed, would be the remaining months before the Geneva talks break off for their summer recess.
That way, the West could take the arms-control initiative before Moscow does - and the West German conservatives could take the initiative before the Social Democrats do.
''The earlier we start, the easier it will be'' to affect public opinion, he suggested.
Such a compromise arms-control move would require thorough prior consultation by the allies - which would require a very intensive next several weeks to reach an agreed position in time to present it at Geneva this spring.
Key players in these consultations will be West German Defense Minister Manfred Worner and US Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger. They will be seeing each other next at the NATO nuclear planning group meeting in Brussels March 21.
In Washington, the Pentagon has been the chief proponent of holding fast to its ''zero-option'' proposal. It speculates that Moscow would reject it and full NATO missile deployments would then proceed. The zero option would require the Soviet Union to dismantle all its SS-20s in return for no new NATO deployments.
The hope here is that Mr. Worner - who has the full confidence of the Pentagon in a way his Social Democratic predecessor Hans Apel never did - can persuade Mr. Weinberger of the urgent need for vigorous US arms-control efforts.
Such efforts are needed to maintain public support for NATO policy in West Germany and Europe.
They could disprove the accusation of the peace movement and the Green party MPs (now sitting in the Bundestag for the first time) that the Reagan administration is interested only in a weapons buildup and not in arms control. So far this thesis has had a strong impact on northern European public opinion.
Attempts by Bonn's previous Social Democratic government to put similar arguments to Washington generated American suspicion that Bonn was trying to wriggle out of agreed NATO deployments and was flirting with neutralism between East and West.
Moreover, personal relations between Weinberger and Apel were so bad that their shouting matches at NATO meetings were an embarrassment to other participants.
In opposition, the Social Democrats are now generally expected to veer leftward on the missile issue and call for a ''moratorium'' on deployments of new Euromissiles. In effect, this would be a unilateral waiver, since the Soviet Union has almost completed the SS-20 stationing program that the 1983-88 NATO deployments are planned to counter.
The West German government hopes that Moscow will be sufficiently impressed by Kohl's landslide election victory over the Social Democrats (and the Greens) to decide the Western antinuclear movement stands no chance of blocking the new NATO missiles - and that the only way to reduce their number is to make reciprocal deep cuts in SS-20s.
If this happens, and if the arms-control scenario develops along the lines sketched here, there might be a role for a Kohl visit to Moscow this year.
The thinking in Bonn, however, is that a Moscow visit - which would be the first by any Western head of government since the declaration of martial law in Poland in 1981 - would be useful only if it clearly contributed to an arms-control agreement.