East-West German dialogue falters under Moscow's glare

The growing reconciliation between the two German states suffered a reverse when East German party leader Erich Honecker indefinitely postponed plans to visit West Germany at the end of this month.

The visit, which would have been Mr. Honecker's first to West Germany, would have raised his prestige and the East German government's international standing.

But it had been criticized in Moscow, where the official Communist Party organ, Pravda, warned that rapprochement with West Germany might undermine or destabilize Communist control of East Germany.

Similarly, the visit had been viewed critically in West Germany. Perhaps most important to the Communists was a comment by Alfred Dregger, parliamentary leader of Chancellor Helmut Kohl's Christian Democratic Party, that West Germany's future did not depend on whether Honecker ''does us the honor'' of visiting.

Ewald Moldt, East Germany's plenipotentiary in Bonn, said it was ''the style'' of this public discussion that made the Sept. 26 to 29 visit ''unrealistic.''

Most of the West German criticism of Honecker's scheduled visit blew up during Chancellor Kohl's summer vacation and focused on the relatively minor intra-German travel concessions the Communists granted in return for Bonn government guarantees of commercial bank loans to East Germany totaling some $ 685 million last year and this.

Critics also complained that by failing to link the loans to purchases in West Germany, the government had permitted the East Germans to use the money to improve their international credit standing by paying off debts owed others.

Kohl tried to smooth things over Friday by calling a news conference to repeat his invitation to Honecker. Kohl insisted his policy had resulted in the emigration of more than 30,000 persons from East to West Germany already this year, many times the annual figure in previous years. His move obviously was too late or too little.

Bonn officials say the presumed ill health of Soviet President Konstantin Chernenko played a role in Honecker's decision. Some thought they could detect a Politburo split over Honecker's policies and that Mr. Chernenko is too weak, both politically and physically, to decide the issue.

Kohl and Honecker had begun groping toward an improvement of relations in the wake of last December's deployment of American Pershing II missiles in West Germany and the Soviet Union's subsequent departure from strategic arms reductions talks in Geneva.

Honecker said the two German states ought to do what they could to minimize the damage, while Kohl spoke of the German states forming ''a community of responsibility'' for maintaining peace in Europe.

Both felt the heat of criticism from their main allies.

Washington officially looked benignly on Bonn's attempts to keep an East-West dialogue going, but some nonofficial persons close to the administration expressed concern that West Germany was trying to loosen its Atlantic ties and move to a more neutral position.

Moscow is concerned about any erosion of Communist control over its buffer states and rarely gives them much autonomy. After Moscow revved up its propaganda machine, Hungary came to Honecker's defense, arguing that the smaller states in Europe had an obligation to maintain a dialogue at their level even if the superpowers temporarily suspended their own negotiations.

Kohl said that although the German states could not negotiate an arms reduction agreement on their own, they could contribute to peace by cooperating on other urgent issues. Honecker's propagandists retorted that there was little point in the two leaders' meeting if the most burning issues were to be left off their agenda.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.