East Germany's head of parliament confirmed today that Communist Party leader Erich Honecker intends to carry out his long-awaited visit to West Germany, perhaps soon after the party congress in April.
Horst Sindermann, the highest ranking member of the East German hierarchy to make an official trip to Bonn, told a press conference following three days of meetings with West German politicians that once the party congress is concluded "nothing stands in the way" of Honecker making the first visit by the top East German leader to West Germany.
The Honecker trip, postponed twice in the past three years, has assumed symbolic importance as a milestone toward improved relations between the two German states. The 73-year-old East German leader, who was born in the Saarland of what is now West Germany, is said to yearn to visit his home town and surviving relatives before he dies.
Sindermann, considered the number three man in the East German party leadership, said he believed his talks in Bonn had enhanced the atmosphere between the two German states. His stay here, which included a two-hour session with Chancellor Helmut Kohl, was widely perceived as an advance trip for Honecker to discern what kind of agreements could cap the visit by the East German leader.
Two bilateral agreements involving cultural exchanges and environmental and scientific cooperation are said to be nearly completed and could be ready for signing if Honecker came in June, West German officials said. But it is unclear whether such accords will be deemed sufficient for Honecker to gain Soviet approval to make the trip.
Honecker most recently was forced to cancel his trip to West Germany in September 1984 because Moscow disapproved of such a pilgrimage at a time of East-West tensions over the deployment of new medium-range missiles in Western Europe to counter the Soviet SS20 buildup.
The East German leader is expected to consult about his trip with his Soviet counterpart, Mikhail Gorbachev, next week at the Soviet Communist Party Congress.
Kohl is said to be prepared to compromise over a longstanding border dispute involving a 44-mile stretch along the Elbe River as an added incentive for Honecker to come, officials said.
But the West German government has consistently refused to accede to East Germany's principal demands for recognition of a separate East German citizenship and diplomatic treatment as a sovereign country.
Sindermann insisted at today's press conference that the time had come for West Germany to acknowledge political realities and extend proper recognition to the East German government. He said the reception he was accorded in Bonn by all parties represented "proof of the growing authority and prestige of the German Democratic Republic -- not just all over the world but here as well."
Seeking to underscore Bonn's view that the time for official contacts was still not ripe, the speaker of the West German Bundestag (lower house of parliament), Philip Jenninger, consented to greet Sindermann only at his residence. When the East German parliamentary leader was taken on a tour of the Bundestag by his host, Social Democratic Party leader Hans Jochen Vogel, the chamber was empty.
While disclaiming any pique, Sindermann said the persistent refusal of official relations was outmoded.