A caption for a picture accompanying a story about West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt's visit to Moscow in yesterday's editions should have described him as "laying a wreath at a cemetery for German POW's instead of at a Nazi POW cemetery.
West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt ended two days of talks with top Soviet leaders today confident that he had put the Kremlin on notice of a unified Western position on Afghanistan and hopeful of movement toward talks on limiting medium-range missiles in Europe.
Schmidt's visit here, the first by a leading Western statesman since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, has been watched carefully in Eastern and Western capitals for signs of a split in NATO ranks.
After what he described as "give-and-take" discussions with Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev and other top officials, Schmidt said his presummit belief that talks on missiles would eventually begin "is even greater" now.
Schmidt and Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher met for two hours today at their request with Soviet Defense Minister Dimitri Ustinov and Chief of Staff Marshal Nikolai Ogarkov for detailed discussions of the arms question.
Schmidt declined to give any details of those and other weapons-related talks with Brezhnev, Premier Alexel Kosygin and Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko. But his comment indicates the Soviets may be moving away from their rigid refusal to begin talks on arms control in Europe until NATO cancels or freezes its own planned missile deployment.
The chancellor disclosed today that the Soviets once again rejected his proposal for a three-year pause in these deployments while talks proceeded.
NATO intelligence estimates the Soviets are deploying five or six of their new generation mobile, multiple-war-head SS20s a month. The Nato response, approved last December, calls for basing 572 cruise and advanced Pershing missiles in Western Europe, but the first of these will not be in place until the end of 1983.
The chancellor's proposal has worried U.S. officials since he first raised it in April.
President Carter wrote Schmidt a letter last month in which he restated the NATO decision and expressed opposition to the chancellor's suggested freeze. Carter was reflecting concern over Schmidt's commitment to the decision as well as fears that his talks with the Soviets on a moratorium would undercut Western unity and undermine production and deployment of the missiles.
The letter which Schmidt called "astonishing," also caused dismay among West German officials, and at high levels in the State Department.
Carter and Schmidt met privately for 90 minutes at the seven-nation summit in Venice on June 21. In a pointed show of unity, they stressed afterward that they were in agreement on the missile issue.
Schmidt went ahead and restated his moratorium proposal here. He said today the Soviets took the position that if they agreed, "then only we [the Soviets] would be giving up anything. Why should we give it up?"
"It appears I'm not making many converts," Schmidt remarked drily of his plan.
Schmidt made clear that there was no shift in the Soviets' position on Afghanistan but that he nevertheless was satisfied with the results of his visit.
With the Soviets unyielding on Afghanistan on the European arms talks issue, this summit offered little promise of major breakthroughs or improvements for East and West.
For Brezhnev, who held a hurried one-day summit in May with French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing, Schmidt's visit was important in showing that, despite bitter relations with Washington, and U.S. economic, Olympic Games, and grain sanctions, the Kremlin is able to talk with major American allies and to continue a "dialogue" of sorts with the Europeans at U.S. expense.
Schmidt set a tough tone on the fundamental differences between Moscow and the West in a strongly worded Kremlin speech last night in which he called for Soviet withdrawal from the "dangerous crisis" in Afghanistan and for talks without preconditions on arms limitation in Europe. a
At his press conference in the Intourist Hotel near Red Square, Schmidt stressed the limited outcome of the summit, saying it "confirmed that in a world situation that continues to be a crisis, talking and listening are necessary and useful . . . Neither side obscured its stand with diplomatic jargon."
More details of the talks will emerge Wednesday and Thursday when Genscher briefs the French and then the U.S. governments. American worries before Schmidt came that the Soviets would find and exploit areas of disagreement between Bonn and Washington seem to have been squelched by Schmidt's repeated insistence that he was here not solely as West German leader, but as a representative of the alliance and a close partner of the United States.
"We spoke for the federal republic but of course in full agreement and consultation with our Western friends, partners, and allies," he asserted.
Even though West Germany has followed the U.S. lead and boycotted the Moscow Olympics, which open July 19, Schmidt accepted the Soviet summit invitation in part because of West German federal elections this fall. He came here intent on showing his country's conservatives he would not bend to the Soviets, while handling his own left wing by arguing that his trip, though yielding limited results, continues the forms of detente.
At the same time, after close and repeated consultations with Carter in Venice and between Bonn and Washington to other ways, Schmidt also wanted to show the Americans that he can operate reliably on his own and defend U.S. interests as well.
Before flying back to Bonn tonight, Schmidt made plain at his press conference that the two sides disagreed almost completely on Afghanistan. A joint communique, noting the talks had been detailed and of "great frankness" on the crisis there, said the two sides agreed on the "necessity to press for the earlist possible political settlement of the situation."
The joint statement said the sides reaffirmed their intention to solve issues "of a humanitarian nature in a favorable spirit," a reference to emigration problems for ethnic Germans trying to leave the Soviet Union. It also said both sides agreed "there is no sensible alternative to the peaceful equitable cooperation of states."
But Soviet irritation at Schmidt, reflected in unprecedented rebukes to him yesterday by the official Tass news agency, continued today. Angered over the West Germans' insistence that a 25-year trade pact be signed by the nations' ambassadors instead of by their leaders, the Soviets retailiated by barring West German correspondents from the signing ceremony.
The trade agreement could lead to a $10 billion project to build a West German-supplied gad pipeline from Siberia to Europe in return for Soviet natural gas shipments to the west Germany.