West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt said tonight that his government had been informed that the United States would seek the removal of all land-based nuclear missiles from Europe in negotiations with the Soviet Union. He took credit for persuading the Reagan administration to adopt this "zero option."
In a television interview this evening, Schmidt, anticipating both President Reagan's foreign policy address Wednesday and the arrival here Sunday of Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev, said that Reagan would offer to abandon plans to deploy 572 new Pershing II and cruise missiles in Western Europe if the Soviet Union agreed to dismantle its European arsenal of new SS20 and other land-based medium-range missiles.
Schmidt has been informed of what Reagan will say tomorrow, and Kurt Becker, West Germany's chief spokesman, told reporters the speech would set the basis for Schmidt's talks with Brezhnev. Lawrence Eagleburger, assistant secretary of state for European affairs, was here today, apparently to coordinate strategy and to brief the West Germans on Reagan's speech.
Becker quoted Schmidt as telling a cabinet meeting today that once the Soviet and American negotiating positions both became public, "West Germany will try to bring these starting positions closer together."
"The federal government of Germany took the view the . . . land-based medium-range missiles in East and West Europe should be reduced to zero," Schmidt said in his television interview. "None on either side. And this is the negotiating position the Americans have adopted after long talks with us. We are very grateful for it."
In the Netherlands today, parliamentary leaders called on the Dutch government to press within NATO for the "zero option" in upcoming U.S.-Soviet arms talks, the Associated Press reported.
During Brezhnev's two-day visit -- with half-day extensions on each end so that the aging Soviet leader can rest -- the Soviets are expected to strike many of the same themes Brezhnev did in a much publicized interview this month with the West German magazine Der Spiegel. There, he offered to create nuclear-free zones in and around Europe and promised to cut Soviet nuclear weapons if the West did so, too.
At the moment, the United States and Soviet Union still differ over what weapons should be covered by the negotiations, scheduled to begin in Geneva Nov. 30. The Soviets have insisted that the West not only drop plans for deploying the new U.S. missiles in Western Europe, but also discuss aircraft and missiles based at sea that can reach Soviet territory -- the so-called "forward-based systems." The United States wants to confine the talks at the start to medium-range and land-based nuclear missiles.
West German papers have been speculating that Brezhnev may use his Bonn visit to make a surprise announcement: a freeze on further deployment of the medium-range, multiple-warhead SS20 missiles.
An arms control gesture now would win additional points for the Soviets against the background of keen European public opposition to the new U.S. missiles.