West Germany responded favorably to the latest Soviet statement on arms. Chancellor Helmut Kohl welcomed the Soviet willingness to accept Western proposals for global elimination of medium- and shorter-range missiles. The Kohl administration called the Soviet offer a ``breakthrough'' on the road to a third US-Soviet summit and said that the offer strengthened expectations that the US and USSR would strive to reach an accord on medium-range missiles this year.
Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher said the proposal would make the problem of verification easier to resolve. Mr. Genscher pointed out that he had repeated Bonn's support for a global ``double-zero'' solution in a conversation with Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze earlier this month.
Defense experts say that the chief significance of the proposal for West Germany lies in the fact that it facilitates verification. They point out that as long as the Soviets maintain assembly sites for the missiles in Soviet Asia, it will be difficult to determine whether the USSR is really adhering to its commitment to scrap other SS-20s in eastern Europe.
Although the Asian SS-20s are incapable of reaching West Germany from their current locations, some West Germans have occasionally expressed concern that the missiles, which are easily transportable, could be moved to eastern Europe in the event of war. That would bring them within range of West Germany.
The Soviet proposals made no mention of 72 US nuclear warheads on West German Pershing 1-As. But yesterday, the Soviets declared that these missiles must also be dismantled as part of an agreement. The American and West German governments have insisted that these missiles are outside the Geneva arms control talks, since the US and USSR have no authority to negotiate on weapons belonging to third parties.
Gorbachev's newest proposal may make that position harder to maintain. Reaction to the proposal indicates that the US and West Germany are likely to come under greater pressure to negotiate on the Pershing 1-As from within as well as outside West Germany.
Commenting on the Soviet initiative, a spokeman for the opposition Social Democrats said that ``the last conceivable barrier to a double-zero solution lies neither in Washington or Moscow, but in Bonn.'' The SPD demands that the government give up its insistence that the Pershing 1-As are nonnegotiable. If the government were to succeed in retaining the missiles, the party spokesman said, it would put West Germany in a singularly dangerous position as the exclusive possessor of such weapons.
Even some members of the Free Democrats (Liberals), the junior partner in the governing coalition, seem to view the insistence on keeping the Pershing as a potential hindrance.