U.S. Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. and West German officials made it clear today that they want to smooth over political tremors stirred here this week by Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger and Pentagon officials.
Haig, winding up an eight-day trip to the Middle East and Western Europe, sidestepped comment on recent remarks by Weinberger, who was also visiting Western Europe, that linked the timing of U.S.-Soviet arms control talks to general Soviet conduct toward Poland. Haig said he would withhold comment until he could return to Washington and discuss with Weinberger what had been said.
Haig's remarks, which appeared to be an effort to avoid another public clash with Weinberger or further complicate the sensitive arms control consultations with U.S. allies, came after a meeting with West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt and Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher.
Before returning to Washington later in the day, Haig told reporters there appeared to be "some easing of the sense of concern" felt by the United States about the possibility of Soviet military intervention in Poland. The apparent reduction of Soviet military maneuvers around Poland has also helped to dampen immediate tensions within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
The issue of Weinberger's statements arose following a NATO unclear planning group meeting of U.S. and West European defense ministers. The group issued a statement -- after intensely discussing its precise working and limits -- warning the Soviets that an intervention in Poland would undermine the basis for future East-West arms talks.
But talking to reporters a day later, Weinberger appeared to stretch the official alliance position, adding that continued Soviet "threats of violence or intimidation" against Poland would preclude arms control negotiations.
Making the talks dependent in this way on a more stable situation in Poland was unacceptable to Bonn officals, who have led the West in advocating quick resumption of negotiations. The talks are seen as necessary to ease pacifist factions in Western Europe that are opposed to NATO's commitment to nuclear missile modernization.
Schmidt said Thursday that if U.S.-Soviet negotiations were to seem imminent, this would actually contribute to easing the tension in Poland.
Additional confusion and strain emerged between West European and U.S. defense officials on the scope of future talks -- specifically, how negotiations on limits for nuclear weapons based in Europe would be linked to the broader context of the strategic arms limitation talks (SALT).
The West Europeans want to draw a contextual link between continuation of SALT and negotiations on the so-called European theater nuclear force (TNF) weapons. This position had even seemed to be endorsed by the Reagan administration at a meeting March 31 of U.S. and European disarmament experts.
With the presence of Lawrence Eagleburger, U.S. assistant secretary of state for European affairs and a Haig intimate, the group made explicit reference ot "TNF within the SALT framework," thus suggesting that once talks on the European-based forces begins, action on SALT and a wider discussion of limits on superpower nuclear forces would be prompted. There was this qualification, however: "Of course, the nature of the TNF-SALT relationship will have to await the outcome of our ongoing review."
In another point welcomed by the West Europeans, the NATO group concluded there need not be a time or procedural link between negotiations on the European-based weapons and SALT, thereby signaling a go-ahead for TNF talks even though the Reagan administration's review of SALT is not completed.
But explicit reference to the link to SALT was missing from the communique issued this week by the nuclear planning group.
U.S. and West European officials say it is too early to give too much weight to these differences, since the Reagan administration and its alliance partners are only now in the middle of consultations that, it is hoped here, will result by summer in at least setting a date for resumption of the negotiations on the European-based forces.
What has contributed to complicating the alliance deliberations in an apparent difference in accents between Weinberger's explicit antidetente line and Haig's appreciation for Western Europe's eagerness that the U.S.-Soviet talks be resumed.
Haig was not interested in playing up the difference today.He endorsed Wienberger's position -- which he said was consistent with alliance policy -- that "Soviet interventionism or internal suppression" in Poland would have "profound consequences" on arms control talks, but he would not get drawn into the "nuances" of whatever else Weinberger had said about Soviet actions short of intervention.
Generally West European officals continue to show patience and forbearance at least publicly, toward the Reagan administration as it develops an arms control policy.
Schmidt is said to be determined to avoid conflict with Washington during this sensitive period. Thursday he said it was only natural for the Reagan administration to want to "take a good look at their cards" before sitting down again with the Soviets.
Schmidt suggested the other night that getting the superpowers back to the negotiating table -- which he said he fully expects will happen this year -- may be just the easy part. "The differences of opinion will show up when the negotiations begin," he said, foreshadowing disagreement among Western allies over acceptable bargaining positions.