Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko arrived here today for three days of talks with West German leaders who hope to get clarification of recent Soviet proposals designed to break the deadlock in nuclear arms reduction talks with the United States.
Accompanied by his daughter, Gromyko was greeted at the airport by his West German counterpart, Hans-Dietrich Genscher, who was to serve as his host for an informal dinner this evening before serious discussions begin Monday.
At the airport, Gromyko said, "It would be wrong if I did not emphasize above all questions of European security." He said there would be an "exhaustive exchange of views" on the subject.
Seven weeks before national elections, West Germany has become embroiled in a heated campaign debate over the most effective way to restrain deployment by Moscow and Washington of modern nuclear missiles in Europe.
Chancellor Helmut Kohl's Christian Democratic Party has vowed to stick by President Reagan's "zero option," which offers to cancel plans by NATO to station 572 Pershing II and cruise missiles in Europe beginning late this year if the Soviet Union dismantles its arsenal of more than 600 intermediate-range nuclear weapons.
The opposition Social Democrats' candidate for chancellor, Hans Jochen Vogel, returned from talks in Moscow last week with Soviet leader Yuri Andropov and said the Soviets were prepared to destroy some of their missiles, move others out of range of Western Europe and accept the U.S. position on establishing a balance based on numbers of warheads and not just missiles.
Vogel, who spent 2 1/2 hours with Andropov, claimed the Soviet initiatives were significant enough to warrant a more forthcoming approach by the United States when the negotiations resume in Geneva on Jan. 27.
The deep-seated anxieties among the German public over the prospect of more nuclear missiles on their soil exacerbating the threat of an East-West confrontation have made missile negotiations a major issue in the election campaign as the parties jostle for votes.
In an interview with the newspaper Welt am Sonntag, Defense Minister Manfred Woerner bitterly criticized Vogel's call for the West to respond to the recent Soviet ideas and suggested that Vogel was being manipulated by Moscow for its own propaganda purposes.
Woerner said Vogel's comments showed that the Social Democrats were "in a hurry to depart from the basis of German and western defense policy."
"In its present form, the Social Democratic Party cannot be trusted with the defense of our country," Woerner said.
Woerner admitted that he is greatly interested in the reports of Soviet willingness to destroy some of their missiles and move others beyond the Urals. "We are all in suspense to hear what explanations he will offer," Woerner said. "Andropov's proposals leave many questions open and we must wait to see if Gromyko carries them any further."
In granting Vogel a generous share of Andropov's time during last week's visit, the Soviets showed an obvious preference for the Social Democrat in the March elections.
Gromyko is expected to emphasize the peace theme during his visit here, undoubtedly with an eye toward influencing West German voters. In his talks with Kohl and Genscher, Gromyko is expected to spell out the latest Soviet proposals and urge the Kohl government to try to persuade the United States to bend its rigid adherence to the "zero option" proposal and move toward compromise.
Government spokesmen here, however, insist that Kohl intends to stress his full support for the U.S. negotiating position and will seek to glean more information about the Soviet offer to scrap some missiles and bargain over the count of warheads. They say he also intends to probe Soviet views on Afghanistan and Poland.
In addition, Kohl's advisers say they harbor suspicions about Andropov's suggestion for a worldwide treaty to renounce force when such a concept is already incorporated in the United Nations Charter and the Helsinki agreements on security and cooperation in Europe.
The Social Democrats have increased their support in the polls in the wake of Vogel's diplomatic sojourns to Washington, Moscow and Paris, which gained widespread publicity and public approval for the way he impressed upon foreign leaders the urgency of German concern over the East-West competition in European missiles.