Berlin pass issue resolved

The two-week-old Berlin confrontation is largely over. As of next week, East Germany will no longer require Western diplomats living in East Berlin to show passports when crossing to West Berlin. And Western officials hope that East Germany will also soon lift the requirement that Western diplomats accredited in West Berlin get visas to visit East Berlin.

Western officials attribute resolution of the dispute to the display of unity by the NATO countries -- and to the East German priority on maintaining unstrained relations with West Germany and the West in general. Western diplomats are not discussing the resolution in terms of a Western victory, however, since they want to make the return to the status quo ante as easy as possible for East Germany.

The confrontation arose at the end of May, when East Germany suddenly required that Western diplomats in Berlin present their passports for inspection by East German border guards when crossing between East and West Berlin.

Before the new rule, diplomats needed only to flash an identity card as they crossed. The West insists on this right since, in the absence of a treaty ending World War II, Berlin is still under the formal administration of the four Allies that defeated Germany: the United States, Britain, France, and the Soviet Union. The West therefore does not recognize East Germany's wall between East and West Berlin as an international border, and it bases its security guarantee of West Berlin on the four-power status of Berlin. The West thus rejects any shift that would weaken this status and legitimize East German sovereignty in Berlin.

The West viewed the change as an unacceptable attempt to change the status of Berlin, and made strong representations to the Soviet Union -- and not to East Germany -- as the responsible occupying power in Berlin. East Germany quickly pulled back from requiring passports of American, British, and French officials crossing between the two sectors of Berlin. And as the West continued to object to the passport rule for other Western diplomats and officials, East Germany said it would issue new tamper-proof ID cards that will suffice for Berlin visits as of next week.

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