W. German government reassures US of its support for new NATO missiles
Washington — There continue to be few signs of progress in talks aimed at reducing American and Soviet medium-range nuclear missiles in Europe. And because NATO deployment of such weapons is but a few months away, political jostling over the issue grows on both sides of the Atlantic.
In recent days, there has been speculation that the West German government is leaning toward a plan for reduced missile deployment that has already been rejected by President Reagan. Statements attributed to West German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher and Chancellor Helmut Kohl hint at apparent new interest in the so-called ''walk-in-the-woods'' formula discussed by US negotiator Paul Nitze and his Soviet counterpart Yuli Kvitsinsky a year ago.
This would have limited the United States to 75 launchers for subsonic cruise missiles and Moscow to an equal number of SS-20 ballistic missiles in Europe. It would cancel deployment of the US Pershing II, which can reach Soviet soil from West Germany in a matter of minutes. But that deal means that while the US gives up the Pershing II, the Soviets, with the SS-20, could still hit Germany within minutes.
But West German Defense Minister Manfred Worner, consulting with US officials here a few days ago, insisted that his country is not sliding away from the US negotiating position in Geneva.
Meeting over breakfast with Pentagon reporters, he showed no fondness for the ''walk-in-the-woods'' proposal, and said the outcome at Geneva must include some deployment of Pershing II missiles. He also made it very clear that without a signed agreement, NATO intermediate-range nuclear missiles (including the Pershing II) will be deployed on schedule beginning this December without delay for diplomatic maneuvering or domestic political reasons.
''Our position has not changed,'' Mr. Worner said. ''There must be an agreement. Hope is not enough. . . . The reason that we deploy is the Soviet threat. You can only counter a threat with another threat.''
Under current circumstances, White House officials find such assurances comforting. Mr. Nitze, who returned for White House consultations last week, said the Soviet Union maintains a ''rigid and uncompromising attitude'' at Geneva. Administration officials see the recent raising of the ''walk-in-the-woods'' notion by Soviet officials with visiting members of Congress as a propaganda ploy.
The administration's desire to hold tight at Geneva is not helped by the recent visit here of Petra Kelly, an antinuclear activist and Green Party member of the West German Parliament, or by the arrest of women protesting at a military weapons depot said to store nuclear warheads in upstate New York. On Saturday, demonstrators picketed Canadian consulates in the US while thousands more held protests in Canada in opposition to US cruise missile tests to be held over the Canadian Arctic.
This week, West German peace activists representing evangelical Christians will be in Washington, sponsored by the Lutheran Council in the USA and promoting the so-called Heidelberg Peace Memorandum, a document opposing deployment of NATO nuclear missiles.
In his meeting with American reporters, Worner said he ''cannot rule out riots'' in West Germany as the time for NATO missile deployment draws closer. ''But I have no doubt that we will deploy,'' he said.
The defense minister also reiterated that failure to deploy the MX missile here would make it much more difficult for European leaders to convince their constituents that they should accept missiles in their countries.
There was general complaint from Europe a decade ago that US preoccupation with Vietnam and the deployment of massive forces there harmed the Western defense of Europe. Worner rejected any comparison with US involvement in Central America today.
''There is no indication that the political importance that the American government attaches to this region leads to a weakening of forces in our region, '' he said. ''We also consider Central America a vital region for the security of the entire West, not only of the United States.''