SOVIET opposition to a unified Germany in NATO is the last stubborn obstacle to rapid reunification of the two Germanys. But the leadership in Bonn is optimistic that security issues related to German reunification will be resolved by the fall. ``Things are moving, and in a good direction,'' said West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl during his visit last weekend to Washington, where he and President Bush discussed the superpower summit and reunification.
Although a Western diplomat here cautions that Mr. Kohl is ``trying to put a good face on things,'' the West Germans say their upbeat attitude is well-founded.
It is the small steps and improving atmosphere in East-West dialogue that encourage officials here. They point to increasing support for several ideas which, taken together, could persuade Moscow to change its mind.
These include the movement in NATO toward a more political role, a stronger Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, and Western willingness to begin a new round of negotiations on further military cuts in Europe.
NATO foreign ministers spoke positively about these concepts when they met in Turnberry, Scotland, last week.
One barrier that most specialists agree is a major one - the difficulty the Soviets have in ``giving up'' East Germany after losing 27 million people to World War II - will be addressed officially for the first time today.
West German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher and Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze will meet in the Soviet town of Brest, on the Polish border, to discuss issues related to German reunification. But, at Mr. Shevardnadze's invitation, the West German foreign minister will also lay a wreath at a mass grave where Shevardnadze's brother is buried. He was killed fighting the Germans in the war.
The wreath-laying is ``a very courageous decision by Shevardnadze, especially in view of Soviet domestic politics,'' says an official in Bonn, who asked not to be named. Although Poland and Germany have striven to reconcile lingering bitter feelings about the war, this effort is missing from Soviet-German relations.
This psychological barrier, as it is referred to, is just one of several topics related to reunification over which the Germans themselves can play a special role.
Another area is economic aid. Speaking on background, Western diplomats here often mention that, in the end, the well-off Germans will simply buy their way to reunification.
This week's issue of Der Spiegel, a West German news magazine, reports that West Germany is ready to give massive economic aid and shrink its Army if Moscow drops opposition to a reunited Germany in NATO. Shevardnadze said last week the Soviets could ``compromise'' on the NATO question.
Bonn has already promised to uphold East Germany's trade agreements with the Soviet Union - an expensive undertaking. According to Der Spiegel, Shevardnadze has told Genscher the country needs $20 billion to save it from collapse, although the Bonn official said that major aid couldn't be arranged until the Soviets come through with economic reforms.
The magazine also reported that the Soviets want a combined German Army to come down to 200,000 troops (from about 600,000). Genscher is expected to discuss troop levels with Shevardnadze today. Although it is assumed a general understanding on the German troop level will be reached in the course of reunification talks, the West insists that concrete negotiations take place in the proper forum - the negotiating table in Vienna.