No, President Reagan did not bring up the subject of the Siberia-to-Europe natural gas pipeline with West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt.
No, the chancellor did not bring up the subject of continuing U.S. grain shipments to the Soviet Union.
That's what made the encounter between the two leaders so edgy--and so futile as far as Poland is concerned.
Neither one dared challenge the other to impose the one sanction that might make a difference to the Soviet Union.
Their meeting was a standoff, with marginal domestic political benefits to both--and none for Poland.
Reagan has been hard-pressed by his right wing to do something to the Soviets for what they are doing to Poland. So it was useful for him to have at his side the personification of NATO's resistance to his call for sanctions. Schmidt illustrates the business-as-usual mentality that has made it impossible for Reagan to appear as the leader of the Western world in the wake of the suffocation of Poland.
The chancellor gave lip-service to the president's mild sanctions as a "strong, clear signal." But he has no intention of matching them.
Obviously, Schmidt has figured out that if Reagan really wanted to do the Russians in, the president would strike at their greatest vulnerability, their inability to feed their own people. Reagan could reimpose the grain embargo--the action, incidentally, of Jimmy Carter, an American president against whose waffling Schmidt often privately railed.
In the crowded press conference that he held, half in English, half in German, after his White House luncheon meeting, Schmidt was pleased to report that the embarrassing grain sales had been mentioned to him by two high officials of the Reagan administration, who plainly wished to deflect any discussion of it between the two principals.
Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. had told him, Schmidt said in the measured tones he used throughout his exceptional visit, "that the president had a promise to keep"--a promise not to reimpose the grain embargo.
Vice President Bush, Schmidt said, also referred to the "promise" problem and said the chancellor should understand that "it was necessary for the credibility of the United States."
That rather opaque phrasing from the vice president was understood perfectly by the leader of West Germany, who lectured at some length about "economic pressures"--such as those that make it unthinkable for him to cancel his part in the construction of the trans-Siberian pipeline.
If the president of the United States, he seemed to be saying, can put a promise to farmers above the plight of the Poles, why can't the chancellor of West Germany put his country's energy needs above the moral indignation--in which he has belatedly joined--over the Soviet crackdown?
Poor Reagan, the most anti-Soviet president the United States has ever had, is in the excruciating position of feeding the Soviets and starving the Poles. He is, under the present policy--of continuing the shipment of 20 million tons of grain to Russia and suspending food shipments to Poland--helping the perpetrators and punishing the victims.
In that context, it was a victory for him to wrest from Schmidt a declaration, in a joint statement, that "they both noted the responsibility of the Soviet Union for developments in Poland."
Schmidt rather testily insisted that he has always known the Soviets did the deed in Poland, and blamed unnamed reporters for the "mess" of misunderstanding. The record does not bear him out.
For his part, he was able to demonstrate to his constituency that he stood up to Reagan amid White House hints of an "American backlash" for his initial rhetorical limpness. Germans, like other West Europeans, have marched and wept for the brave Poles. If they want their governments to go beyond hand-wringing, they have not made it clear.
Some in Washington believe still that, with Western help, Poland could rise up against her oppressors and claw open a crack in the Iron Curtain that would bring it crashing down.
Europe's leaders, however, are following Schmidt's "realpolitik." Its elements were put forth in an ice-cold analysis by Ronald Steel, the biographer of Walter Lippmann, in last Sunday's New York Times. "For better or worse, the status quo in Europe serves both superpowers," he observed.
And that is why Reagan, who aches for the Poles, who burns for the destruction of the Soviet system, keeps up the arms negotiations, contemplates meeting Brezhnev and lets the grain go through.
Poland's fate was sealed over 30 years ago at Yalta, where spheres of influence were defined, and was resealed in Helsinki in 1975. It has meant tyranny for the satellites--and also a peace that Europe is reluctant to disturb. Reagan's words deny the fact; his actions, like Schmidt's, affirm it.