The Pentagon, backing off an earlier suggestion that a Soviet truck purposely rammed a U.S. Army vehicle in East Germany two weeks ago, said yesterday that the incident now appears to have been an accident.
Pentagon spokesman Fred S. Hoffman said U.S. and Soviet military officials have met to discuss the matter, giving rise to "indications" that "the incident may not have been intentional." He said, however, that the collision is still under investigation.
Hoffman refused to elaborate, saying he was "bound" to go no further in describing the latest U.S. findings.
U.S. Army officials reported last week that the commander of the American military liaison mission in East Germany suffered facial injuries July 13 when the Land-Rover in which he and two other soldiers were riding was struck from the rear by a five-ton Soviet military truck.
The U.S. military command in Europe registered a protest with Soviet forces in East Germany.
Hoffman said last Tuesday that although Soviet intentions were unknown, Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger was "very concerned" about the incident and wanted "the Soviets to conduct themselves in such a way as not to lead to these incidents, whether or not they are intentional."
"It is very puzzling to us that our vehicle could not have been recognized for what it was and given the appropriate berth of space on the highway ," Hoffman said at the time.
Hoffman refused to say yesterday whether the Soviets had apologized for the incident, which occurred just four months after a Soviet sentry shot and killed a member of the U.S. liaison team, Army Maj. Arthur D. Nicholson Jr.
Under terms of a 1947 agreement, the United States maintains a 14-man liaison mission in East Germany; the Soviets have a similar team in West Germany. The teams, which are supposed to have freedom to travel within certain bounds, are used to gather military intelligence for mutual "confidence building."