West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt said yesterday that the United States would be more likely to help Soviet dissidents by pursuing detente than by cancelling conferences or using economic sanctions against the Soviet Union.

His remarks followed calls in Congress for trade sanctions against the Soviet Union and U.S. withdrawal from the 1980 Olympics in Moscow as a result of the sentences the Soviets imposed on Jewish activist Anatoly Scharansky and dissident Alexander Ginzburg last week.

Speaking from Berlin on ABC News' Issues and Answers, Schmidt said the United States should be willing to compromise - or risk a "showdown" with the Soviet Union.

"In a showdown they will be tough as well and two guys just shouting at each other will not lead to an improvement of the situation," Schmidt said.

He said the Soviet Union has become a more open society than it was 20 years ago, partly as a result of detente talks. "I think the more we pursue these policies . . . the more we can expect a further opening up of their society. It is a slow process, I would accept, but it is a process, and one should not provoke its interruption."

Schmidt also said that provoking the Soviet Union "will neither help the Scharanskys nor the Ginzburgs, nor the thousands and tens of thousands of people who are in similar situations without being prominent."