The West German government of Chancellor Helmut Kohl is deeply concerned by President Reagan's apparent intention to press for new curbs in East-West trade at the Williamsburg summit and will seek to change his mind when Kohl pays a one-day working visit to Washington next week.
Chancellery and Foreign Ministry officials said they fear that another confrontation on East-West trade could harm the alliance even more than last year's imbroglio over the Soviet gas pipeline. They said they prefer instead to focus the agenda on global economic issues like high interest rates, world trade and debt problems of developing countries.
Seeking to defuse the controversy before the May 28-30 summit of seven leading western industrialized nations, Kohl hopes to convince Reagan that the alliance cannot afford new strains over East-West trade at a time of rising tensions over the prospective deployment of medium-range nuclear missiles later this year, Bonn sources said.
When he confers with Reagan Friday at the White House, Kohl also is expected to urge the United States to show continued flexibility at the Geneva arms talks and not be deterred by the recent Soviet rebuff of an interim solution proposed by Reagan last week.
The West German officials said Kohl would encourage the United States to explore further compromises by allowing U.S. negotiator Paul Nitze the freedom to initiate his own negotiating ideas when the Geneva talks resume next month.
Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei "Gromyko's rejection did not close all doors," a senior Chancellery aide said. "Maybe Moscow wanted to show it can be just as quick to turn down offers as the U.S. was in rejecting Soviet leader Yuri Andropov's proposals last December, so we are not all that pessimistic."
The Bonn government is worried that Reagan plans to press for agreement at the summit on a broad range of trade restrictions with the Soviet Bloc by expanding the powers of the Paris-based Coordinating Committee on East-West Trade to prevent the flow of high-technology goods to the Soviet Union and its allies.
Washington argues that western high-technology exports, especially in the field of microelectronics, have aided the Soviet Union's nuclear rearmament and forced the West to spend exorbitant sums on defense to counter expanding Soviet military power.
Bonn has agreed to improve the system of controls on strategic goods but not to the extent that it would disrupt normal trade with the East. Economics Minister Otto Lambsdorff warned yesterday that Reagan's proposals could further impair the weakened state of world trade and lead to greater unemployment in Europe.
West German officials said that White House intention to press the East-West trade issue could threaten to undermine the summit by forcing a confrontation over an insoluble topic while distracting participants from achieving progress on more vital world economic problems.
"It's just not possible to get an agreement right now," said a Bonn foreign affairs official. "We have study groups looking into the East-West questions, and the work should be done at that level and not at the summit."
Government officials also stressed that trade with the East has receded in importance since western bankers and businessmen are more cautious about lending or trading with a number of East European countries, such as Poland and Romania, that have incurred enormous debt burdens in recent years.
The Reagan administration is seeking to impose tight controls on the export of computers, robots and software to the East and reportedly is planning to block American licensing if an accord within the alliance cannot be reached.
The French government also has protested strongly against stricter regulation of technology transfers, but Bonn has redoubled its efforts to minimize the East-West trade dispute because the Kohl government is troubled by the spate of trans-Atlantic conflicts on economic issues just as the European security debate is reaching a fever pitch.
The European Community has accused the United States of stealing its traditional export markets by offering to sell flour, dairy goods and poultry at subsidized prices. The United States, however, claims it is only adopting the same selling tactics that the Europeans have practiced for many years.
The quarrel over agricultural trade subsidies seems likely to grow more serious, and West German officials said that, like the troubles over East-West trade, such irreconcilable issues should be kept low on the Williamsburg agenda in the hope of "emphasizing more positive elements and making the summit a success."