Sour pickles give way to missiles in West Germany

The ''sour pickle season'' is over in West Germany, Chancellor Helmut Kohl is back in town rapping a few knuckles, and the ''hot fall'' of antinuclear protests is about to begin.

The ''sour pickle season'' refers to summer - when all sensible politicians are vacationing, and headlines bear scant relationship to serious issues. It is giving way to an autumn concentrated on Euromissiles.

But first to the sour pickles - and their latest manifestation in speculation that Mr. Kohl's center-right coalition might break up over welfare payments to mothers.

Trimming social welfare is, indeed, an issue in the sense that it is made necessary by today's slowed economy and rising deficits. It is not an issue, however, in the sense that all the major parties already agree on this truism. German conservatives who are the heirs of Bismarck are no more eager than Social Democrats to make radical cuts in welfare.

In fact, the most vociferous calls to restore maternity benefits for working mothers to four months came from Kohl's right, from Bavarian Premier Franz Josef Strauss. In his eloquent defense of motherhood, Strauss regretted the present low birthrate and warned that if they weren't offered sufficient monetary inducement, young people today might not adequately ''boost the biological resources of our people.''

On his return from vacation at the end of August, Kohl moved quickly not only to show that he, too, was a friend of mothers, but also to squelch the rumors of breakup of the coalition. He told the factions to stop quarreling in public and steered a compromise on maternity payments.

Kohl then moved on to Euromissiles. On Aug. 26, he preempted the antinuclear protests due to begin Sept. 1 by revealing that both Presidents Reagan and Andropov had written him recently saying that arms control agreement was still possible in the final US-Soviet negotiating session that begins Sept. 6. Chief American Euromissile negotiator Paul Nitze will come to discuss the talks with Kohl before the Sept. 6 resumption, Kohl noted.

Kohl added, however - as he has done virtually every time he has discussed Euromissiles since he became chancellor - that if the superpowers do not reach any arms control agreement this year, then West Germany will proceed in December with the planned NATO stationing of new intermediate-range Pershing II ballistic missiles. No delay would be considered, he said.

For its part the Social Democratic opposition is edging closer to a rejection of the deployments and a call for a delay in the stationing to allow more negotiating time.

In late August, Social Democratic disarmament spokesman Egon Bahr visited East Germany, where party and state chief Erich Honecker said more explicitly than the Soviets have ever done that new short-range Soviet missiles would be deployed in East Germany if West Germany goes ahead with the NATO deployments.

But the East Germans also added, Bahr reported, that the Soviet bloc would not single out West Germany for a return threat, but would also target more missiles on the United States, presumably sea-launched cruises.

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