Leader of maverick Romania stands firm on West German visit

West Germany had welcome mats ready for three East-bloc leaders. Two had to be taken up -- Bonn says temporarily -- when East Germany's Erich Honecker and Bulgaria's Todor Zhivkov called off visits due later this month.

The third, for Romanian state and party chief Nicolae Ceausescu, is still in place.

Mr. Honecker and Mr. Zhivkov were widely believed in the West to have called off visits to West Germany under pressure from the Soviets -- though neither concedes the point.

The Romanians say Mr. Ceausescu is going to West Germany in mid-October, regardless of his allies' cancellations.

For the time being, however, an out-of-the-blue agreement between Moscow and Washington for the coming meeting between President Reagan and Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko makes the question largely academic.

The Bucharest newspaper Romana Libera printed an interview with a West German coalition politician on Wednesday approving the Romanian idea that, when communications had brken down between the superpowers, it was "necessary and important" for lesser members of the two alliances to maintain contacts.

But that interview was given beforem news of the pending Reagan-Gromyko talks and, until these take place, a Ceausescu visit to Bonn loses some of its relevancy.

East European analysts profess to see a link between the postponement last week of the East German and Bulgarian trips to West Germany and the Soviet offer of a Gromyko-Reagan meeting, which was promptly accepted by the United States.

One source noted that Bulgaria is a firm Soviet ally. "It obviously would be amenable to suggestions that this was not the opportune time for such close contact with a government which, after all, is the most unequivocal West European supporter of Reagan policy vis-a-vis the Russians."

Subsequent events seemed to lend substance to the argument.

As last week ended, the Bulgarians were celebrating their liberation by the Soviet Army in World War II. They found it reassuring that the Kremlin sent a Politburo member, Mikhail Gorbachev, to Sofia for the occasion. He is seen in Eastern Europe, as well as in the West, as a potential future Soviet leader.

Mr. Gorbachev is said to have briefed the Bulgarian leaders of what was afoot -- a Russian move for a meeting between Mr. Gromyko and Mr. Reagan when the Soviet foreign minister is in the US for the UN General Assembly.

In this connection, it is interesting to note that the regular ministerial-level meeting of the West German-Bulgarian Economic Commission, established some years ago, is due in Bonn next week. Both sides are confident it will go ahead.

Any arming of the Washington-Moscow climate could mean that Moscow would become less concerned about what its allies were up to in bilateral relations with Western Europe. But an East European source cautions that the outcome of the White House meeting on Sept. 28 could still be a Gromyko "nyet." In that case, Soviet demands for "unity" within the East bloc could be intensified.

This might result in greater difficulties for an openly pragmatic country like Hungary than it would for Romania. The Russians, it is widely said, have "learned to live" with the latter.

Romania, for example, calls on Americans and Russians alike to halt the nuclear arms race, but it tends to see the US as more responsible for it. On the other hand, Romania declines to agree with most of the other Warsaw Pact allies that the Soviets are "forced" by the US to respond with countermeasures.

This scarcely adds up to division within the bloc. Pragmatic and reformminded East Europeans dismiss Ceausescu's maverick stances them as lacking substance.

But should Ronald Reagan and Andrei Gromyko fail to relieve at least some of each other's suspicions and should they fail to open a door to further talks on "damage limitation" (to use the West German term), then the conditions in which Romania operates could greatly change.

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