After a startling quest for rapprochement with West Germany last year, East Germany's communist authorities are now concentrating on shoring up ties with their Soviet Bloc allies while taking discreet initiatives to improve relations with other western nations.
While East German officials stress that they would like to "deepen peaceful coexistence and good neighborly relations" with the Bonn government, they belittle any chances of high-level dialogue in the near future.
In an unusual display of independence last summer, the communist party daily Neues Deutschland stoutly defended Erich Honecker's plans to become the first East German leader to visit West Germany in the face of a wave of Soviet press attacks against Bonn. But Honecker finally bowed to pressure from Moscow and canceled his trip three weeks before it was to take place.
Since that time, East Germany has oriented its diplomacy toward reassuring its Warsaw Pact allies, especially the Soviet Union and Poland, that its primary loyalties lie within the Soviet Bloc.
"We have to be realistic," explained a senior Foreign Ministry official in East Berlin. "The two German states belong to different alliances, and we cannot move faster in our relationship than our respective allies will allow."
Asked when Honecker might visit West Germany, the official shrugged and said "only when the climate improves." But he indicated he did not foresee the possibility of such a trip for at least another year.
"The extreme caution that East Germany is showing toward dialogue with Bonn reflects how grave the dispute with Moscow last year really was," said a western diplomat here.
Last week, Neues Deutschland published an article outlining the government's demands that West Germany change its constitution and recognize a separate East German citizenship.
Under its constitution, Bonn remains committed to eventual German reunification and believes in an indivisible German nationality. The West German government refuses to recognize East Germany as a foreign country and offers passports to all Germans living in East or West.
In the past, East Germany has talked only of "respecting" its status as a separate state, a purposefully ambiguous term that averted open conflict over the nationality issue.
On Friday, Honecker told a meeting of regional party leaders that "good neighborly relations" with Bonn were becoming nearly impossible because of West Germany's insistence that a united German nation still exists within prewar borders under international law.
Honecker said the West German government's attitude on "the border question fully contradicts treaties signed" with its East European neighbors in the early 1970s. "Bonn has become a prisoner of its own policies," he added.
While keeping his distance from Bonn, Honecker is trying to solicit better relations with other western countries. He is expected to make his first state visit to a NATO country when he visits Italy in April.
The East German government applauded Italian Foreign Minister Giulio Andreotti's statement last fall that two German states now exist and should remain divided in the future for the sake of European stability.
Andreotti's comments provoked an uproar in West Germany, and Bonn angrily demanded an official apology from Rome.
British Foreign Secretary Geoffrey Howe is expected to visit East Berlin for talks in April. French Prime Minister Laurent Fabius also plans to make an official trip here soon.
After harboring some initial reservations, the West German government now has accepted the view that such contacts by other western states may improve chances of reviving high-level cooperation between Bonn and East Berlin sooner than anticipated.
West German officials note that dialogue between the governments on noncontroversial topics has continued.Bonn and East Berlin are still discussing pollution control, better road connections and cultural exchanges. There is also talk about expanding contacts between the two parliaments in Bonn and East Berlin if allied powers approve.
But officials in both German governments admit that the political impetus for a substantial improvement in relations is lacking.
The Soviet Union is planning massive celebrations to commemorate the 40th anniversary on May 8 of the defeat of Nazi Germany. While Bonn wrestles with complex national emotions about how to observe the date, East Germany is hewing carefully to the Soviet line and extolling "the joyful day of liberation from fascism."
Diplomats in East Berlin said they do not expect the East German government to promote any serious contacts with Bonn until the May festivites are over out of deference to Soviet sensitivities.
But East German officials sounded pessimistic about renewing the push for rapprochement with Bonn even after that date.