Kohl and Euromissiles

THE public may have certain misgivings about the value of economic summits, like the one scheduled for Venice next week. At their worst these can become mere photo opportunities, from which emanate those peculiar lineup shots which show how much taller this prime minister is than that one, and start people wondering what's in Mrs. Thatcher's handbag. But the summits, with their implicit and explicit deadlines, do provide an impetus for the respective participating governments to get their programs together, so to speak.

And so it has apparently proven with West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl's center-right coalition, which for some weeks has been debating its response to the Soviet proposals for a Euromissile accord. The liberals, under Hans-Dietrich Genscher, have pushed for acceptance of the ``zero-zero'' option, the proposal to eliminate both the longer- and shorter-range ends of the so-called ``intermediate range'' nuclear forces spectrum.

Conservatives within the Christian Democrats, including Dr. Kohl himself, have been hesitant to agree, especially to the second ``zero,'' the inclusion of the shorter-range missiles. Their concern has been that the double-zero would leave West Germany, always conscious of being on the frontier with the East bloc, vulnerable to even shorter-range, so-called ``battlefield'' range missiles (which can travel up to 300 miles) of the Warsaw Pact.

But popular opinion in Germany has been with Genscher & Co. on this one, as was evidenced in state election results last month; Dr. Kohl finally began to see that his was a minority position.

And now a decision has been reached: The Kohl government's position will be to accept the ``zero-zero'' option while insisting on keeping its 72 Pershing 1A launchers, whose nuclear warheads are actually controlled by the United States.

Bonn's position is that these launchers are analogous to the French and British ``independent'' nuclear forces, which the Soviets have agreed to exclude from the prospective Euromissile accord, which is being seen as a US-Soviet agreement.

It's not clear that the Soviets will accept this view; Moscow has been insisting that the Pershing 1As be withdrawn because their warheads are in effect US nuclear weapons. Moreover, the Pershing 1As can travel about 450 miles - which, despite the ``battlefield'' range tag, means that these are really shorter-range INF weapons.

Still, many observers doubt that Moscow would let these missiles be an obstacle to a Euromissile accord.

This newspaper has endorsed the idea of a Euromissile accord, not because it would make a huge difference in the total number of nuclear weapons on the planet, but because such an accord would be a sensible first step toward more comprehensive arms control down the line.

Now, Dr. Kohl and his government have helpfully formulated a position - clearly more to the taste of the center than the right - that brings them into line with their NATO partners, many of whom, of course, they will meet in Venice.

It is now up to the Soviets to decide how to respond to the position of the newly unified West.

The process continues.

Now on to the gondolas!

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