East German head of state Erich Honecker, apparently bowing to Soviet pressure, today postponed a planned visit to West Germany later this month.
Ewald Moldt, the chief representative of East Germany's diplomatic mission in Bonn, announced today after a two-hour meeting at the West German Chancellery that the proposed dates for the trip, Sept. 26-30, were "no longer realistic." He said disparaging remarks by leading West German politicians caused the East German leader to spurn an invitation at this time.
But West German officials said a more plausible explanation for the aborted trip was growing Soviet dismay over the blossoming detente between the two Germanys at a time when Moscow has tried to freeze East-West relations in retaliation for the deployment of new nuclear missiles in Western Europe.
Moldt said the style of public controversy in West Germany over the visit was "extremely unworthy and detrimental, as well as absolutely unusual in relations between sovereign states."
The West German government, in a statement issued by Philipp Jenninger, the Chancellery adviser in charge of relations between the Germanys, expressed regret over Honecker's decision to forgo the trip, which would be the first to West Germany by an East German leader. The visit was to include stops in Frankfurt, Munich and the presidential palace on the outskirts of Bonn.
The Bonn government said it could not accept the reason given for the postponement. It noted that Chancellor Helmut Kohl had repeatedly stressed that Honecker was welcome and that "we are willing to talk about all topics and leave nothing out during the visit."
Preparations for Honecker's visit had advanced to the point where the dates had been accepted by both sides and a joint communique posed "no insurpassable difficulties," the Bonn statement said.
Kohl later declared that Honecker was still welcome and that he was leaving the question of setting future dates "completely open." He said he was "very satisfied" with the progress in relations with East Germany until now and wanted to cultivate further cooperation between the two states after the U.S. election in November.
West German officials said they expected bilateral talks on such issues as environmental and cultural accords to continue. But they said any new initiative to resurrect the Honecker trip must come from East Germany.
Moldt alluded to recent comments by Alfred Dregger, the parliamentary leader of Kohl's Christian Democrats, as a particularly damaging influence on the East German decision. In a newspaper interview 10 days ago, Dregger noted with some sarcasm that West Germany's "future does not depend on whether Mr. Honecker pays us the honor of a visit." The remark drew furious protests from the East German leadership.
On Sunday, Kohl incited more criticism in the East Bloc press by evoking the future vision of German reunification in a speech to Germans expelled from East European territories.
Willy Brandt, the former Social Democratic chancellor who opened West Germany's relations with East Bloc countries, today said "chatty dilettantism" of the Kohl government induced the East Germans to renounce the trip.
Brandt charged that such statements as those by Kohl and Dregger revealed traces of doubts within the conservative governing coalition about "the continuation of German-German policy as it has been to date." He called on the Kohl government to give a full accounting of the cancellation of the visit to the West German parliament.
Since late July, the Soviet Union has intensified a propaganda campaign warning about West German "revanchism," or efforts to reestablish a German empire by regaining control over eastern territories lost during the war.
The prospect of a summit between the two German leaders stoking passions about a reconciliation between the divided states was probably a strong emotional factor in Soviet attempts to thwart the Honecker visit, western diplomats said.
But more dominant Soviet concerns at this time, the diplomats noted, would be to restrain East European efforts for revival of detente and to maintain a hostile climate in East-West relations at least through the American presidential elections.
A recent commentary in Pravda, the official Soviet Communist Party daily, warned that "relations between the two German states cannot be seen as detached from the entire international situation."
Honecker, who is chairman of the Council of State and general secretary of the Communist Party, has spoken frequently of the need to "limit the damage" caused by the continuing deployment of modern nuclear missiles in Europe and stressed the importance of dialogue between two German states sharing a "community of responsibility."
West German officials emphasized that the wording of the East German announcement kept alive the possibility of rescheduling the visit for a later date.
The Bonn officials said they also expected Honecker to pursue a policy of encouraging detente and dialogue with the West because of its popularity at home and importance for the East German economy. But they added that Honecker was likely to follow Moscow's diplomatic cue more closely and not to proceed with a trip to West Germany unless the Soviet leadership endorsed a more cooperative line with the West.
It marked the second time in two years that Honecker has canceled plans for a working trip to West Germany. The invitation was first extended by then chancellor Helmut Schmidt in 1981 when he met Honecker at a hunting lodge in Werbellinsee, East Germany.
Last year, the East German leader put off a scheduled trip when a controversy erupted over the death of a West German tourist, apparently of a heart attack, while he was being interrogated by East German police at a border crossing.