East Germany wants a strong but quieter detente

East German leader Erich Honecker is pressing ahead with East-West German detente in the foreign-policy leeway which Moscow is allowing him. But he will stop spectacular displays like the March 20 emigration of the niece of East German Prime Minister Willi Stoph.

This is the picture that emerges from conversations with West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl's adviser on East-West German relations, Philipp Jenninger, and other officials dealing with the issue.

The most striking sign of East Berlin's chummy relations with Bonn is this year's surge of East German emigrants to West Germany.

The numbers have dropped somewhat from the hundred-a-day record in late February. They continue at a healthy 50 or 60 a day, however, and if this rate keeps up, this year will probably witness the greatest wave of East German emigration since the Berlin Wall was erected in 1961 to prevent just such a drain.

Bonn welcomes this relative liberalization - though Mr. Jenninger points out that Bonn is hardly interested in depopulating East Germany, and would prefer to see the lifting of restrictions on ordinary travel rather than just emigration.

In today's rather cordial atmosphere, the two governments have finally set a date next fall for Honecker's long-postponed first visit to West Germany. And Jenninger has even spoken publicly of finding a modus vivendi on the outstanding issue of the East-West German border on the Elbe River. Over the past three decades Bonn has insisted that the east bank is the proper division, while East Berlin has set the line in mid-river.

In a further gesture, Bonn has made it clear that it is ready to repeat last summer's extension of 1 billion deutsche mark ($385 billion) credits to East Berlin, should East Berlin request it. Western expectations of such a request at the end of the year to handle mounting hard-currency interest payments have not yet been borne out, however.

Bonn is in any case already paying something for the new stream of emigrants. Besides the resettlement costs and welfare payments - which can mount up in the case of the 30 to 40 percent of immigrants who don't already have close relatives in West Germany - Bonn is paying a discreet amount to East Berlin for some of the newcomers.

There is no clear pattern to the rather arbitrary amounts asked for by East Germany, according to Jenninger. Most come free. But others can cost anything up to the tens of thousands of marks per head that Bonn normally pays in the periodic East German release of political prisoners to the West.

West Germans dealing with intra-German relations vary in their explanations of Honecker's motives in suddenly letting so many East Germans emigrate.

All do agree that Moscow tolerates Honecker's version of detente, and has explicitly done so since the early months of the late Yuri Andropov's rule. All agree as well that the economic help Bonn gives East Germany is most welcome in a time of economic hardship in the Soviet bloc.

Beyond this, however, different observers attach different weights to possible incentives to East Germay to allow East German emigration. These incentives include moderating East-West confronation, soliciting Bonn's financial assistance, lessening domestic tensions, or getting rid of malcontents.

In connection with the last possibility, though, Jenninger notes that East Berlin has heeded the present Bonn government's objections and is no longer exporting any East German criminals to West Germany. In the past, in the periodic West German purchases of freedom (and emigration) for East German political prisoners, up to 10 percent have sometimes been criminals, according to West German estimates.

At this point both Bonn and East Berlin would like to put a stop to the rash of sit-ins in Western embassies by would-be East German emigrants.

Several scores of people have quietly gotten to the West this way - including , on March 20, Prime Minister Stoph's niece and her husband and two small children. Ingrid Berg and her family extracted their exit permission by squatting in the West German Embassy in Prague Feb. 24 - and a number of other would-be East German emigrants are still sitting in there.

In the near term, Jenninger indicated, the new East German tactics will be to let such people stay in Western embassies a good long time before they are given permission to emigrate (and thus demonstrate that emigration comes faster through legal channels).

More permanently, Jenninger hopes that East German practice can be liberalized to the point that would-be emigrants no longer feel the need to take such drastic measures.

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