Bonn will probably go ahead and negotiate an umbrella agreement with Washington to govern private West German research contracts under President Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative. It is specifying, however, that this is a matter of commercial housekeeping alone, and represents no judgment on the eventual military value of SDI (or ``star wars'') -- a research program on space-based defense. Bonn is setting a conspicuously leisurely timetable. And in order not to be singled out, it is hoping that Britain and Italy will sign similar agreements with the United States.
This is the conclusion suggested by judicious leaks and background conversations with government officials as the West German Cabinet awaits the final report of last month's team visit to the US to explore SDI. The report is due at the end of this week, and a cabinet decision on an agreement with the US is set for the end of this year or the beginning of next.
Both Chancellor Helmut Kohl and his chief security adviser, Horst Teltschik, have publicly outlined Bonn's probable future decision this week. Dr. Kohl spoke positively to a television interviewer about German participation in SDI research -- and about a government umbrella agreement covering such things as prices, patents, and technology transfer in classified areas.
Earlier, the daily Die Welt reported, the chancellor told a closed session of the Bundestag Foreign Affairs Committee that participation in SDI research would give West German industry a boost in new technology -- but that participation should not be interpreted as any political signal about the future SDI program. On television, he pointed out that any military decision would be premature, since the results of ongoing research will not be sufficient to make decisions about deploying actual systems for another five years.
Die Welt further cited Kohl as telling the Foreign Affairs Committee that all SDI research is staying within the bounds of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, and that post-research phases of development and deployment would require consultation among NATO allies and negotiation between the superpowers.
These conditions correspond with Kohl's consistent position about SDI -- and to the joint statement by Mr. Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in December of last year.
Like his chancellor, security adviser Teltschik -- leader of the 40-man fact-finding team of officials and businessmen that toured the Pentagon and US laboratories from September 4 to 14 -- spoke positively about an umbrella agreement at a seminar this week. On the military implications, he specified that in the long run he expected SDI to lead to a cooperative security system between the superpowers based on a mix of offensive and defensive weapons. Implicitly, he was making a contrast both with the pr esent exclusively offensive balance and with the exclusively defensive balance that Reagan envisaged in his speech launching SDI in March 1983.
In some intramural tugging within the West German coalition, Foreign Ministry diplomats have asked why a government agreement is necessary to regulate SDI contracts that average about $500,000 each and are unlikely to exceed $80 million to $100 million over five years.