The East German government reportedly removed security checkpoints today between East Berlin and the rest of the country in a step that is part of what would appear to be a challenge to Four-Power agreements on that divided city.
Today's East German action follows the surprise announcement last week that all non-Germans would have to pay a fee and obtain a visa to cross the Berlin Wall from the West for a one-day visit in the Communist eastern section of the city.
The new steps suggest to some Allied and West German officials that East German, backed by Moscow, is now trying to force Western acknowledgement that there is no difference between East Berlin and the rest of East Germany.
A visa has been required since 1949 for foreigners who wanted to visit East Germany, but not for East Berlin. East Germany has always claimed, however, that East Berlin is the capital of that country and has sought to limit the control of Western Allies solely to West Berlin.
"What they want you to accept with the new visa to East Berlin," said one Western official here, "is that when you enter East Berlin now, you are entering another country - the German Democratic Republic - and not just the Soviet sector to Berlin."
Beyond what appears to be the new effort to reduce Western status in East Berlin - a long-standing East German policy - there was a question here as to why the East Germans were acting at this time, two weeks before a new U.S. administration enters office.
East German spokesmen have called the establishment of the visa requirement "a normalization of international procedures."
American, British and French officials met privately here today to consider the implications of the East German action, but other meetings are expected before a decision is taken on how to respond to the East German actions.
[U.S. officials in Washington said that "the matter is under active consideration as to how to deal with what we consider a very serious step by East Germany.]
For all practical purposes, the Western allies have yielded considerable ground over the years on the East Berlin issue.
The entire city's Four-Power status, and Western access, remain a bell-weather of East-West relations generally and Allies are especially sensitive to any possible violations of the milestone agreement on Berlin reached by the United States, Britain, France and the Soviet Union in 1971.
Although that agreement is vague on a number of points, it does include a specific agreement by the four governments that "irrespective of the differences in legal views, the situation which has developed in the area (Berlin) . . . shall not be changed unilaterally."
Some West German officials privately are alleging that the imposition of visa requirements on foreigners entering East Berlin is in fact a unilateral change that violates the agreement.
That is the key issue that the allied representatives are now seeking to cope with and respond to in meetings of the socalled "Bonn group."
The scattered East German control posts for checking visa's on routes leading from East Berlin to the rest of East Germany were of very little practical use because most people using those routes were East Germans. They were symbolic of the special status accorded the city after the war, however, and their removal adds weight to the view that the recent actions are part of a new campaign to remove all vestiges of Berlin's special role.
Today, the speaker of the West Berlin senate, commenting on the removal of the control posts, claimed it would not change the status of the the city. Only the Allies could do that, he said.
The West German press has treated the situation as serious, calling for action by the Allies.
The new visa regulations do not apply to military and diplomatic personnel of the Western Allies, who can still move freely in and out of East Berlin. Private citizens of those countries or any other non-Germams will now have to get a visa that expires at midnight instead of what previously amounted to a one-day pass, free of charge, that ran for 24 hours from the time it was issued.
Regulations for West Germans have not been altered. As in the past, they can obtain a 24-hour permit at border crossings or on request, permission for longer visits.
When the new regulations were announced, an Allied spokesman said only that "this matter will not leave the Allies indifferent. The new regulations cannot change anything concerning the position and rights of the Allies."
No official protest, however, has been made thus far.
The new East German acts come against a backdrop on increasing restiveness inside East Germany among dissident intellectuals and private citizens who are publicly declaring their desire to emigrate to the West.
Although there is no certainty that the new visa requirements will actually restrict Eastern contacts with non-German Westerners, the moves seem to fall into a pattern of recent activities that tend to isolate East Germany more from the West, perhaps as a result of the dissidence inside the country.
The East Germans were also reportedly concerned about the daily influx of foreign "guestworkers" from West Berlin, many of them Turks who come to spend a less expensive day in the East. The charging of a $2 fee along with the visa, plus the existing requirement to change a certain amount of Western currency, could discourage this.
If it does not, then East Germany at least will benefit from an increasing flow of Western currency, which it