West German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher begins a three-day visit to Washington Sunday that Foreign Ministry officials are working hard to portray as without urgency and part of the regular course of U.S.-West German diplomatic exchanges.
For months, however, the West German government has been squirming under U.S. criticism over such issues as Bonn's response to the military crackdown in Poland, the Soviet gas pipeline project and Western defense spending. Government officials here privately voice growing discomfort at having to confront sometimes hostile U.S. representatives and audiences.
But the pressures on the West Germans to adjust their policies toward the Communists appear to have had little result.
There is still no sign that West Germany will give up a cubic meter on the gas pipeline project with the Soviet Union. Economics Minister Otto Lambsdorff, just back from the United States, again warned last week against further plans under consideration in Washington to block the deal.
The Reagan administration has banned shipment of critically important General Electric rotor blades to European engineering firms responsible for producing turbines for the 2,800-mile gas line from Siberia. But President Reagan has deferred--pending the results of a State Department team mission to Europe--a decision on banning foreign subsidiaries of U.S. firms from supplying such essential components.
Lambsdorff, noting that possible European competitors originally had yielded all the turbine rotors to General Electric in the interest of international economic cooperation, said that additional U.S. attempts to interfere in the project would be a serious blow to industrial cooperation in the West by fostering a go-it-alone attitude among European companies.
U.S. officials have objected to the pipeline deal on the ground that it will make Western Europe too dependent on Soviet natural gas and help fund Moscow's strategic campaign against the West, while the Europeans have argued their need to decrease their reliance on Middle East oil.
The announcement last week by Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) that congressional consideration was being given to a motion to withdraw part of the 350,000 U.S. armed forces stationed in West Germany received wide play here and dramatized how deep the frustration and irritation with the West Germans is in some U.S. quarters.
But the statement itself--which had been forecast for weeks by U.S. officials, including the ambassador to Germany, Arthur Burns--was less surprising to the West Germans than the way Stevens framed the issue.
Burns had raised the possibility of a troop withdrawal in connection with the continuing protests here against the United States and NATO's decision to deploy new nuclear weapons, saying that if the U.S. military presence was not wanted, it could be removed. In contrast, Stevens appeared to West German observers to be threatening a withdrawal as a sort of punishment for West Germany's recalcitrant alliance behavior and particularly for Bonn's determination to follow through on the Soviet pipeline deal.
Officially, the subject of a troop pullout is not on Genscher's agenda of meetings planned with Reagan, Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. and Secretary of Defense Caspar W. Weinberger. It was described by a Foreign Ministry spokesman as "not a matter between governments." But Genscher is expected to have to deal with the question during his appointments on Capitol Hill.
Stevens' move prompted a flurry of excited editorial comments in West German papers last week.
"It is amazing how rapidly the American discussion on a U.S. troop withdrawal from Europe is widening," said Bonn's General-Anzeiger. "This debate should teach us two things. First, the isolationist trends in the United States are much stronger than we imagined. Second, the inadequate information of U.S. senators and representatives calls for a Western European information offensive."