West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl expressed regret today that the intended resignation of Prime Minister Menachem Begin had forced the postponement of his visit to Israel but said he hoped he would travel there later this year.
Government spokesman Peter Boenisch said Kohl's trip was designed to deepen reconciliation and friendship between the two countries and should be conducted in a "relaxed atmosphere" when Israel's political situation becomes clearer.
He said a new date would be considered before the end of the year, but he added it was very unlikely that Kohl would go to Israel before he makes a planned tour of Arab countries in early October.
Israel has voiced grave concern about West Germany's contemplated sale of Leopard 2 tanks to Saudi Arabia. Kohl announced recently that he would not make a final decision on the tank deal until he completed his trips to Middle East countries, including Saudi Arabia and Israel.
Kohl's five-day visit to Israel, scheduled to begin Wednesday, had aroused a sense of expectancy because of his desire to speak candidly for a new generation of postwar West Germans who feel no personal guilt for the atrocities committed against Jews by the Hitler regime.
At a press conference last week, Kohl said that he believed West Germany had done all that was "humanly possible" to atone for the Holocaust and that West Germany's special relationship with Israel did not extend to saying "yes and amen" to all policies of the Begin government.
Kohl said he would not shy from criticizing the rapid expansion of Israeli settlements on the West Bank as an obstacle to peace.
He also contended that his government bases its Middle East policy on the principles of Israel's right to exist and the Palestinians' right to self-determination, as well as the renunciation of force by all parties.