The new U.S. position in the European missile negotiations, which was placed on the bargaining table yesterday in Geneva, is likely to have only a temporary effect on the political struggle over the issue within West Germany, according to officials on both sides of the Atlantic.
This relatively pessimistic assessment, even before the new U.S. idea is unveiled at the White House today, arises from two important judgments:
First, that the Soviet Union is likely to find President Reagan's new position unacceptable on its face, and probably will reject it out of hand. Among other reasons, this is because the United States continues flatly to oppose the Soviet demand that 162 French and British missiles be taken into account in calculating the balance of nuclear force on the continent.
Second, that the opposition to stationing more powerful U.S. medium-range missiles in West Germany is deep and broad within that country, and is likely to grow rather than diminish as the moment for missile deployment approaches at the end of this year.
The March 6 election victory of conservative Helmut Kohl, who formally was named to a four-year term as chancellor yesterday by the lower house of parliament, stiffened the Bonn government's support for deployment of the missiles.
But at the same time, the conservative victory left the Social Democratic Party free to move against deployment without the constraints imposed by being in power.
As the Social Democrats shift their position against the missile deployment, the previous consensus on military issues among the major parties in West Germany is being eroded. This gap between the parties is likely to intensify the controversy about the missiles, so long as there is no Soviet-American agreement in the Geneva negotiations.
Social Democratic participants in a biennial German-American meeting in West Berlin last week predicted that their party convention late this year will call for postponement of U.S. deployment and a continuation of U.S.-Soviet bargaining. Before this formal action, individual party members are expected to oppose deployment amid major anti-missile demonstrations in Germany.
Conservative Party participants in last week's meeting said a display of U.S. flexibility in the negotiations is important to demonstrate Reagan's sincerity. But these officials did not suggest that the expected "interim proposal" would settle the issue in German public and political opinion.
In Geneva yesterday, Ambassador Paul H. Nitze reportedly presented the new U.S. proposal to Soviet Ambassador Yuli Kvitsinsky in a 70-minute session, after which the Euromissile negotiations were recessed until May 17.
Neither side would disclose the substance of the discussion. As he left the meeting, Kvitsinksy told reporters: "I am not very optimistic, but let us see."
Last July 16, during a prearranged "walk in the woods" outside a Geneva restaurant, Nitze and Kvitsinsky discussed a compromise settlement. Although both governments later rejected the plan, proposed by Nitze, widespread hopes were raised by the fact that it had been entertained at all.
According to U.S. sources, Kvitsinsky made clear early in the secret talk that he could not depart from Moscow's insistence that the 162 French and British missiles be reflected on the U.S. side of any East-West missile deal in Europe.
This point has been pushed hard by the Soviets. Even when Foreign Minister Andrei A. Gromyko and then secretary of state Alexander M. Haig Jr. set the stage for the Euromissile negotiations in September, 1981, Gromyko went out of his way to insist on inclusion of the French and British missiles, sources said.
During the "walk in the woods," nevertheless, Nitze reportedly said the United States could not agree to this Soviet position. And the two negotiators walked on, discussing a compromise plan that did not contemplate counting the 162 allied missiles on the U.S. side.
Later circumstances indicated that the U.S. refusal to count the French and British missiles was among the strongest roadblocks to the plan in the Soviet capital.
Both the French and the British strongly oppose inclusion or limitation of their missiles in the Geneva negotiations. Moreover, Washington says the Soviets would gain an unacceptable and unwarranted numerical advantage if this point were conceded.
While this is expected to be a central Soviet objection, Moscow is likely to attack Reagan's plan for a host of additional reasons. A senior Soviet commentator, Valentin Falin, suggested one of them yesterday by writing in Izvestia that the Soviet Union will reject any U.S. interim plan that is based on Reagan's initial "zero-option" proposal.