Top ministers in West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt's cabinet have privately cautioned him that his continuing and personal quarrel with the Carter administration over economic policy is putting a strain on U.S. West German relations generally, according to reliable sources here.
Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher, who is also the leader of the small Free Democratic Party that is part of Schmidt's ruling coalition, is understood to have taken the lead in expressing that concern to the chancellor at a Cabinet meeting here last week.
Newly appointed Defense Minister Hans Apel, who was Bonn's finance minister until a few days ago, also reportedly joined in, as did Economics Minister Otto Graf Lambsdorff.
Though all three ministers agree with Schmidt's economic policy and feel the U.S. pressure on Bonn to do more to stimulate Europe's economy is unjustified, the concern is said to be over Schmidt's well-known tendency to be abrasive in "lecturing" others on certain matters.
Sources here say, that, even putting policy differences aside, the chancellor's personal attitude toward the Carter administration is partly to blame for the deterioration of relations. It is up to Schmidt to try and straighten the situation out, the sources say.
The issue was given public prominence yesterday by an article -- now being studied in the White House -- in the weekly news magazine Der Spiegel which described the Cabinet meeting as a "mutiny," With ministers reproaching Schmidt for his allegedly angry comments about the U.S. administration and an alleged display of "contempt" for some of its officials.
Government sources here claim the artticle was "exaggerated" in terms of Schmidt's views toward the White House, but say it was "rather accurate" in terms of describing the ministers' general concern about relations with West Germany's most important ally being poisoned by the private rhetoric over the lingering dispute.
Government sources here claim that ardenied the whole thrust of the magazine's account, claiming U.S.-West GErman relations are far better than depicted in the press and that Schmidt clearly wants good relations with Washington.
One spokesman privately acknowledges that Genscher told the chancellor, "We have to handle our partners as friends," but suggests this was really intended for the ears of Economics Minister Lambsdorff, who came back from his recent trip to Washington and indiscreetly gave the impression to newsmen that he had been disappointed there.
The cabinet meeting last week followed a brief Carter-suggested trip here by Treasury Secretary Michael Blumenthal in which Schmidt continued to reject American requests that Bonn set higher growth rate targets for this year to help stimulate greater demand for imported goods.
Sources say Schmidt led off that meeting with one of his short lectures, which recipients don't seem to like, but that the bulk of the meeting was amicable. A similar experience reportedly greeted Vice President Mondale here early last year.
"One thing you've got to keep in mind," one official here said, "Is that it's nothing personal. He does that to lots of people," especially on matters of economics and defense where he has had considerable experience.
Schmidt enjoyed very close relations with the Ford administration, but since the new administration took office, the West Germans have suddenly found themselves directly in the path of the three most important new foreign policy programs of the Carter White House.
On human rights, the West Germans want a more cautious US. approach because they fear that direct attacks against the Soviets could shut off the flow of ethnic German emigrants from the East. On nuclear power, the United States has tried to stop part of the biggest nuclear sale Bonn ever recorded -- a $5 billion deal with Brazil. On economic matters, the two disagree over questions of inflationary stimulation to increase demand versus maintaining price stability.
On the last issue, Schmidt feels strongly, not only on economic principle but because it would be politically very dangerous for him at home to be seen as giving in to even some inflation even though Bonn enjoys the lowest inflation rate of any major country.
The respected weekly newspaper Die Zeit this week noted that "four years ago, the former U.S. ambassador to Bonn, Martin Hillenbrand, predicted that if the allies drift widely apart on economic policy, this would also affect joint security policy. German politicians have always harbored similar fears.
"The inclination toward quarreling in German-American relations, as has become noticeable in the first thirteen months of the Carter era, is disquieting."