Chancellor Helmut Kohl's new call for "all possible solutions" to be explored in Geneva negotiations to limit medium-range missiles in Europe carries important implications for West Germany's relations with the United States and its European allies.
Kohl urged U.S. and Soviet negotiators in the stalemated talks to look once again at the "walk in the woods" formula that was rejected in Moscow and Washington last fall.
U.S. negotiator Paul H. Nitze and his Soviet counterpart, Yuli Kvitsinsky, had agreed informally on a plan to cut the Soviet arsenal to 75 SS20 rockets while the United States would station only 75 cruise missile launchers in Europe later this year. At the same time, the number of SS20 launchers in Asia would be frozen at 90.
Most important, the compromise would cancel deployment of 108 Pershing II missiles in West Germany, from which they could strike Soviet territory in less than 10 minutes.
In an interview with The Washington Post last Thursday, Kohl regretted that this plan had not been "pursued in depth" and added: "Whether there is a chance of finding a new impetus here I am not able to judge, but it must be examined further in Geneva."
Kohl's government has perceived promise in the rejected "walk in the woods" plan for some time. On May 23, The Washington Post reported from here that senior West German officials were concerned by the growing conviction in the Reagan administration that Pershing II missiles must be deployed in West Germany this year before the Soviet Union will bend toward a compromise.
The article, based on talks with chancellery, defense and Foreign Ministry officials, also said the Kohl government wanted every possible avenue explored to curtail medium-range missiles in Europe before the December stationing deadline. The officials said at the time that they would like to see Nitze acquire even more authority and possibly revive the tentative pact he worked out with Kvitsinsky.
Four days after the story appeared, Kohl's spokesman, Peter Boenisch, denounced it at a press conference as "absolutely incorrect."
West German officials said a message from President Reagan to Kohl in the intervening days motivated the denial. It asked if the views represented in the story reflected a change in policy only a few days before the Williamsburg economic summit would produce a communique reaffirming allied unity on arms control.
Reagan's message embarrassed Kohl, and he ordered his spokesman to issue a public denial a day before the summit. West German officials later confirmed that the story was accurate.
This week, the reaction to Kohl's comments showed that the "walk in the woods" issue had lost none of its sensitivity.
Today, a duty officer from the U.S. Embassy called The Post here to ask for a complete transcript of the interview, saying that Washington needed to have it by Monday morning. He offered to have the transcript stamped "confidential" to protect its contents.
The Post declined to provide the full transcript and suggested to the Embassy that it seek an official transcript from Kohl's office.
By raising the prospect of reviving the rejected formula, the chancellor has thrust himself into a sensitive policy debate in Washington.
The plan, conceived primarily by Nitze, was purportedly spurned in Washington because Pentagon officials wanted to retain the Pershings in the "weapons mix" with the slower cruise missiles.
Since then, Nitze has been authorized to bargain away the Pershings only if the Soviets agree to dismantle the entire arsenal of SS20s aimed at Western Europe, diplomats here have asserted.
The harsh Soviet criticism of the Pershing as a first-strike weapon has been cited in the west as proof that the Pershing remains a vital bargaining card. When to play that card, however, is shaping up as a dilemma before the final round of negotiations opens Sept. 6.
In the interview, Kohl refused to be drawn into discussions of whether his government preferred to offer a withdrawal of the Pershings as a possible enticement for the Soviets to compromise. But some of his advisers believe the Soviets will only give serious consideration to proposals that include omitting the Pershing II from deployment plans.
Also, they reason that if the Soviets still do not respond to such overtures, the West can legitimately argue that Moscow will bear full reponsibility for failure of the arms talks. A public proposal to cancel Pershing deployment, they feel, would greatly help to defuse expected antimissile protests this autumn.
There is speculation that Bonn may advance this argument when members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's Special Consultative Group meets in Brussels Tuesday to discuss Geneva negotiating strategy for the last time before the final round.
During his talks with Kohl last week, French President Francois Mitterrand reportedly agreed that the "walk in the woods" concept was worth exploring. France, however, is not one of the five West European countries involved in NATO's plans for medium-range missile deployment.
Only Britain and Italy are scheduled to install cruise missiles in December. Unless Bonn would agree to accelerate stationing of its cruise missiles--not due until 1985--political resentment could surface in those countries forced to bear the brunt of early deployment and any subsequent social turmoil.
Some defense experts contend that the technical obstacles to speedy deployment of cruise missiles in West Germany this year are too great. Others contend that an acceptable, if incomplete, installation of the missiles could match requirements of political linkage.