The question of German reunification is as sensitive as ever - but it won't block the ``new chapter'' of improved Soviet-West German relations that both sides are now determined to begin. This is the reading of the West German delegation that visited Moscow with President Richard von Weizs"acker and Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher July 6 to 8. The Soviet Communist Party daily Pravda carried a stern warning to West Germans yesterday not to aim for German reunification - a claim not raised by Dr. von Weizs"acker in any case - and delegation members interpreted this in part as obligatory public reassurance to Moscow's ally East Germany that the Soviet Union will not desert it.
West German sources described the substance and tone of the talks that ended yesterday as being friendly and open and unburdened by the sharp differences that erupted over the German issue.
Von Weizs"acker said that the two delegations - including an array of West German businessmen - discussed in particular scientific, technological, and other cooperation, including the possibility of giving young Soviets management training in West Germany.
Despite the tradition of Russian-German contact in science and technology, the two countries' bilateral programs have so far lagged behind Soviet exchanges with other Western European countries because of Soviet refusal over 15 years to include West Berlin in any agreement. This issue was finally resolved last year by including individual West Berliners in exchanges. As a token of things to come in the new atmosphere, an agreement on a Soviet-West German joint venture for production of machine tools was signed on Tuesday.
Despite the desire of both sides to look to the future, the old German issue featured prominently in the Soviet news media. The Soviet view is that there is no open ``German question.''
Citing Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's conversation with von Weizs"acker, Pravda wrote, ``When we hear it said again and again that the `German question' remains open, that not everything is clear about `the eastern lands,' and that [the] Yalta and Potsdam [agreements of the World War II Allies] are not valid, this gives rise to doubts as to whether the [West German] leadership intends to adhere to that treaty consistently.'' The treaty he referred to normalized Soviet-West German relations in the early 1970s.
Gorbachev stressed, according to Pravda, that ``there are two German states with differing socio-political systems. ... Each can make its contribution to European and world affairs. ... No other approach is acceptable.'' It was not the Soviet Union that was to blame for the division of Germany, Mr. Gorbachev said, but ``the plans of [former British Prime Minister Winston] Churchill and the Americans upon the end of the war.''
The Soviet media still have not printed von Weizs"acker's comments in his dinner speech Monday about the ``feeling'' of Germans in cultural and other spheres that they are ``one nation.'' Nor has the Soviet press carried von Weizs"acker's hope, expressed in the same speech, for expanded Soviet generosity in granting to ethnic Germans in the Soviet Union permission to emigrate or visas to visit relatives in West Germany.
In one sidelight of the visit, a new precedent was set when an Israeli television correspondent was given a visa to travel with the German and German-accredited foreign journalists accompanying von Weizs"acker.
On the issue of the Soviet media's censorship of his remarks, von Weizs"acker suggested that more important than the question of whether the particular deleted parts are now printed is the outcome of this debate within the Soviet leadership about whether such omissions really serve the purposes the leadership now has in mind.