Politics overshadow Berlin party

Chapter Two of the rival celebrations of Berlin's 750th anniversary is now being played out as East German leader Erich Honecker mulls over whether or not to attend the West's festivities April 30. At the same time West Berlin Mayor Eberhard Diepgen is still trying to win tolerance of the Western allies for his acceptance of an earlier invitation to ceremonies in the East in October.

Mr. Diepgen issued his counterinvitation this month in the hope that a positive response by Mr. Honecker would signal tacit East German recognition of West Berlin's ties with West Germany.

This, Diepgen hopes, could balance any inadvertent approval he might bestow on East German incorporation of East Berlin by his presence at ceremonies billing East Berlin as the capital of East Germany (rather than half of a city that is still legally considered one).

Among the other players, France and Britain oppose Diepgen's participation in East Berlin's birthday party, according to conversations with various Western and East German diplomats and officials on both sides of the Berlin Wall.

The allies fear it could compromise the legal status of all Berlin as falling under the responsibility of the four World War II victors.

The United States joins the other two guarantors of the security of West Berlin in worrying about possible erosion of the foundation of this security. However, American officials reportedly told Diepgen on his recent visit to Washington that the era is long past when they would veto his decision, according to American sources.

Whatever their misgivings, the Western allies have not hammered out an agreed response to Diepgen's clear desire to go to the East Berlin ceremony.

One allied official summed up their approach as being ``confused and afraid.''

On the other side, the Soviet Union has apparently not yet decided its views, according to West German sources, about whether Honecker should take part in anniversary festivities in West Berlin that would feature West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and West German President Richard von Weizs"acker as speakers.

The final player, the West German government, approves of Diepgen's probes but would like to see ``modalities'' established that would affirm West Berlin's continued ties to West Germany.

The West Germans, by contrast to the allied powers, are more focused on the political opportunity the anniversary offers to appeal to Honecker to stop having would-be East German emigrants shot as they try to cross the wall and to relax his restrictions on human contacts across it.

``We are far more advanced in German-German relations than in the narrower Berlin context. In the narrower Berlin context we still have more difficult, more deep-going, unsolved problems than in the wider German-German context,'' pointed out one West German official.

``The climate in Berlin is still different. It's much more bitter. Understandably ... the anniversary gives us a chance to make [practical] progress,'' the West German official says.

Already the East Berliners are the prime beneficiaries of a dramatic increase in the number of East Germans under retirement age who were allowed to visit relatives in the West last year - 570,000 in East German statistics.

But West Berliners lack some possibilities such as those recently given to West Germans in (non-Berlin) border areas allowing extension of day-trip visits to the East to overnight stays.

One conspicuous nonplayer, East Berlin's Mayor Erhard Krack, talking to foreign journalists at city hall, deflected questions about Honecker's plans and noted that he, Krack, had not himself been invited to West Berlin.

The Western allies' fears trace back to the last Berlin crisis in the late 1950s and early 1960s, when Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev threatened to turn over control of Berlin matters to East Germany and let it curtail Western access to West Berlin via the corridors formally guaranteed by the Soviet Union.

That was also the time when Mr. Khrushchev decided - Western diplomats attribute the move to Moscow - to divide West and East Berlin by the infamous wall erected overnight in 1961.

The East German Politburo member who supervised that construction was Honecker.

Since then the status of Berlin was reconfirmed by the four World War II allies in the Quadripartite Agreement of the early 1970s.

Some West Germans, like conservative Bavarian Premier Franz Josef Strauss on a visit to the Liepzig Fair last week, dismiss the question of the status of Berlin as nothing more than a ``sacred cow.''

More cautiously, Diepgen told the West German Bundestag (lower chamber in Parliament) last week: ``The status of the city is ... not only for the allies, but also for us Germans the untouchable foundation .... And if cooperation and dialogue in Berlin contribute to strengthening the unity of the city and of the nation, then it does not weaken the status of the city. On the contrary, it strengthens it.''

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