West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl came away from a White House meeting yesterday seemingly confident that President Reagan is unlikely to press for new curbs on East-West trade when he meets with America's major allies at the Williamsburg, Va., summit next month.
While declining to specify what Reagan had told him, Kohl said at a news conference afterward: "I see no reason to believe that this subject will play a major role at Williamsburg. It may be discussed, but rather marginally.
"If the background of the question is what happened in Versailles, I do not think it will come up as a subject of major controversy at Williamsburg," he added.
He was referring to the fears of west European leaders that raising the East-West trade issue will provoke a confrontation similar to the one that broke out over the Soviet Union's natural gas pipeline following last year's summit at Versailles in France. The administration's efforts to impede the pipeline by imposing sanctions against European firms assisting in its construction caused the most serious rift between the United States and its allies in years.
German delegation sources said that Kohl, who was empowered to speak on behalf of the European Economic Community, argued to Reagan that the Atlantic Alliance cannot afford another bitter dispute at a time when tensions in Europe have been heightened by the prospective deployment of U.S. medium-range nuclear missiles in western Europe later this year.
On the missile question, Kohl, who was visiting here for the first time since his Christian Democratic Union's victory in the West German national elections last month, reiterated to Reagan his government's determination to move ahead with deployment of the missiles on German territory if the Soviet Union fails to reach an arms control agreement with the United States.
With Kohl standing by his side, an obviously pleased Reagan said: "The chancellor has confirmed his strong endorsement of our negotiating strategy." The president was referring to the recent U.S. proposal for an interim agreement that would see the Soviet Union dismantle some of its medium-range range missiles in exchange for the West cutting back part of its planned missile deployment.
However, Reagan stressed, he and Kohl "remain united in our commitment" to begin installing 572 Pershing II and cruise missiles in West Germany and other NATO countries if the U.S.-Soviet negotiations in Geneva fail to make headway. Of the total, 204 missiles will be based in West Germany, and the rest in Britain, Italy and Belgium.
At his news conference, Kohl denied that opposition from West German nuclear freeze advocates will create sufficient turmoil to block deployment there. He said:
"We are not eager to have these missiles--not at all--and we want these negotiations with the Soviets to succeed. But the Soviets must be aware that things cannot go on as in the past, and we will stick by our agreement" to accept the missiles.
German sources made clear that, in addition to reaffirming Bonn's steadfastness on the deployment question, Kohl's other major priority in the White House talks was to convince Reagan that it would be unwise to provoke a new fight over East-West trade at the summit.
According to the sources, Kohl said West European leaders understand that Reagan, through personal conviction and pressures from his conservative constituency, wants to take a tough line toward the Soviet Union and the East European communist countries. The administration argues that western high-technology exports have aided the Soviet nuclear rearmament effort and forced the West to expend huge sums on countering the Soviet military buildup.
But, the sources continued, Kohl also warned that the situation is seen very differently in Western Europe, where the jobs of many voters depend on exports to the East bloc.
As a result, he reportedly stressed, if Reagan wants to avoid causing new eruptions against U.S. leadership of the alliance, he must think in terms of public opinion in Europe as well as in the United States.
As to Reagan's reaction, the sources said only that the president promised to give the greatest consideration to Kohl's arguments. However, the chancellor's subsequent public comments and the remarks of two senior U.S. officials, who briefed reporters after the White House meeting, suggested strongly that Reagan will not push the issue in Williamsburg.
The pipeline dispute was defused last November after Secretary of State George P. Shultz worked out an arrangement to lift the sanctions against European firms in exchange for an agreement to study ways of achieving a more coordinated western approach to East-West trade.
Kohl said that the Williamsburg meeting would receive "a progress report" on these studies. The two senior U.S. officials, who declined to be identified, noted that only some of these studies will be completed by the time of the summit, an indication that the intention is to push consideration of the East-West trade problem into the future.