Chancellor Helmut Schmidt indicated today that West Germany will not immediately fall into line with the U.S. boycott of the Moscow Summer Olympics that was reaffirmed today, hinting that the final decision on the issue will not be made until late May.
The question of whether to attend the games has been a particularly difficult one for Bonn because of West Germany's reluctance to take any direct action against Moscow that might threaten its own policy of detente with the Soviet Bloc.
At a press conference following the departure from Bonn of Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, Schmidt responded to questions about why West Germany was delaying a decision. He said Bonn was seeking a way for all nations to still participate in the Games. This reflected Bonn's continued hope that the Soviets will withdraw some of their troops from Afghanistan in intervening months.
In Washington, the White House said that President Carter today formally advised the U.S. Olympic Committee that no American team should be sent to the Summer Olympics in Moscow. Carter had said last month that unless the Soviet troops were withdrawn from Afghanistan by Feb. 20 he would call for an American boycott of the Moscow Games.
State Department spokesman Hodding Carter III, traveling with Vance, said there is "no sign whatsoever" of a Soviet pullout. "The decision is irrevocable."
President Carter's message to the U.S. Olympic Committee asked it to take prompt action to put the boycott into effect.
The White House said the president wanted Americans to continue their financial support of the Olympic Committee because it conducts other important athletic events.
Chancellor Schmidt endorsed the notion of a neutral Afghanistan, adding, however, that the means to this end still require considerable thought. Austria, he noted, is the only country in which there is currently an institutional responsibility for neutrality.
The Western allies are known to differ on whether Afghanistan should be an entirely neutral country or whether the Soviets should be granted some passive influence there since they have been present in Afghanistan for two years.
While acknowledging differences in interests and aspirations are normal among the Western allies, Schmidt underscored his country's own commitment to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
"west Germany fulfills all its commitments exactly," he said. "If everyone else did the same thing our alliance would work better."
The surface cordiality that marked Vance's meeting with West German leaders failed to mask the confusion and uncertainity with which West Europeans view current U.S. policy toward the Soviet Union.
Vance, who is on the European tour to discuss with principal U.S. allies a coordinated strategy for dealing with the Afghanistan crisis, ended his talks with Schmidt and Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher by declaring to reporters:
"Our analysis is common. We have discussed in depth the substantive issues relating to the situation and the steps that should be taken within the Western community."
Genscher, who appeared with Vance at a joint press conference, responded: "I believe the secretary is leaving Bonn certain and convinced that the Federal Republic of Germany will meet its obligations within the framework of the Western community."
But, while Vance and Genscher seemed genuinely convinced that their meeting had been fruitful, it was clear from an abundance of other evidence in this capital -- the questions asked at their press conference, the commentaries in the West German press, the conversation of ordinary citizens -- that there is distinct nervousness here about whether Washington is trying to lead the Western alliance onto a course of escalating confrontation with the Soviet Union.
There is obvious awareness here that the foreign policy of the Carter administration has been changing profoundly in the wake of the Soviets' invasion of Afghanistan on Dec. 27.
But those aspects of the new U.S. policy that seem to have registered with the greatest impact here have been the things that West Germans see as symbolic attempts to punish the Soviets through restraints in East-West trade and boycotts of the Olympic Games in Moscow next summer.
The European view, by contrast, has tended to put its stress not on confrontation or even containment but on trying to find a negotiated basis for inducing the Soviets to withdraw from Afghanistan and pick up again the threads of East-West detente.
This European approach was underscored by the statement adopted Tuesday by foreign ministers of the nine European Economic Community countries. It called for transforming Afghanistan into a neutral country under international guarantees if the Soviets withdraw their forces.
The statement is also clearly supported here in West Germany, which until now has tried to follow a course roughly midway between the United States and France.
The support was made clear by Genscher, who in discussing the need for "an overall Western concept" in dealing with the Afghanitan situation, stressed that the West should pursue "all possibilities for talks and contacts" with Moscow and "avoid escalation and seek consultations to continue a realistic policy of detente."
His words left no doubt that West Germany, which has strong security and economic reasons for not letting detente wither, prefers that kind of approach to that of Olympic boycotts and other sanctions of a cold war character.
Although Bonn has yet to declare itself officially on the Olympics, it is generally assumed that the Schmidt government's close ties to Washington will force it, however reluctantly, to follow the U.S. lead if the United States boycotts the games.
Until today, however, there seemed to be a general feeling within West German press and public opinion that the United States would shy away from an actual boycott of the Moscow games. That has been the belief here despite repeated U.S. threats of a boycott.
In fact, U.S. officials conceded privately, it was a realization that the point of U.S. policy does not seem to be getting across in Europe that caused Vance to make the trip. He left Bonn for Rome late today and will also visit Paris and London for talks before returning to Washington Friday.
Vance's purpose the officials added, is to calm European complaints about Washington acting without proper consultation and to try to push the signs of disarray peeking out from the edges of the alliance into the background.