Sidestepping allied concern about the Afghanistan invasion, West Germany today reached a new economic cooperation agreement with the Soviet Union that involves a trade of Soviet energy resources for West German industrial goods.
The agreement, designed to complement a 25-year trade pact between the two countries concluded in 1978, is expected to be signed during Chancellor Helmut Schmidt's visit to Moscow at the end of June.
Following a meeting between Schmidt and Soviet Deputy Premier Nikolai Tikhonov, Bonn officials sought to play down the importance of the new accord and described current West German-Soviet relations as "satisfactory."
Yet the meeting itself was another solid indication that West Germany's policy of relaxed relations with Communist Eastern Europe has remained largely undisturbed by the rupture between Moscow and Washington. Ministers from Bonn also have been in East Germany, Hungary and Romania this week, and an East-West German summit is expected to be held not long after Schmidt's trip to Moscow.
By encouraging more trade with Europe, the Soviets have found a way both to aggravate Western alliance strains and offset the effect of the U.S. embargo. Moscow is said to be dangling a number of attractive new business deals before West Germany, Italy, France and Japan.
In an apparent effort to show some deference to U.S. concerns, Bonn officials said that it had not been decided whether Schmidt himself will sign the final document or will ask instead that his ambassador to Moscow do so.
Today's agreement was reached after a two-day meeting of a joint West German-Soviet economic commission. Tikhonov headed the Soviet delegation.
West German sources said there was no discussion during the commission sessions of trade sanctions initiated by Washington against the Soviet Union in response to the invasion of Afghanistan five months ago. While Bonn reluctantly has supported American efforts to expand the list of Western strategic goods banned for export to the Soviet Union, it has resisted U.S. requests to shorten trade credit guarantees to the Soviets and to curtail the size of large industry deals with them.
The talks this week focused more on long-term economic cooperation and possible areas where trade could be expanded -- including nuclear energy, raw materials, offshore technology, mining and metallurgical machinery.
Figures released by the Bonn Economics Ministry this week show that West Germany imported $961 million worth of goods -- mainly oil and gas -- from the Soviet Union in the first quarter of this year, an increase of more than 29 percent compared to the same period last year.
In turn, West Germany exported $1 billion worth of goods to the Soviets, an increase of more than 23 percent, with the main focus on machinery, rolled steel technology, piping and other steel products.
Much of the trade growth, however, was said to be due to increased prices rather than greater volume.
This week's meeting was originally scheduled for last January but was delayed at Soviet request after the invasion of Afghanistan. The joint commission, which includes West German industrialists and government officials and Soviet trade and banking officials, has met annually since 1971. o
[Meanwhile, Swedish Foreign Minister Ola Ullsten ended talks with Soviet leaders on world issues Friday and indicated that he had failed to budge the Kremlin's stand on Afghanistan, Reuter reported. "I have no new Soviet policies to report from Mr. Gromyko and Mr. Kosygin on Afghanistan," Ullsten said.]