East German Communist leader Erich Honecker, opening a party congress with visiting Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev looking on, today echoed Moscow's warnings about worsening East-West relations but reaffirmed his own agenda of foreign policy initiatives and resistance to change in domestic policy.
In an address to the congress of the ruling Socialist Unity Party of Germany, which is held every five years, Honecker scrapped a moderate statement of "deep regret" over the U.S. air attack against Libya in his prepared text and issued a toughened condemnation reporting "anger and dismay" over what he called the "barbaric bombing" by American planes.
With Gorbachev sitting behind him and conspicuously making notes, Honecker repeated the language of a Warsaw Pact statement issued after Gorbachev's arrival here yesterday and said the American raid would have "an adverse effect" on the situation in Europe "and the East-West dialogue in general."
At the same time, Honecker said that East Germany would continue to seek "business-like dialogue," expanded economic cooperation and "a return to detente" with the West and he made clear that Gorbachev's shake-up of Soviet management and call for "radical reform" would not be repeated here.
"We have held steady during a turbulent period," Honecker declared. "We can say with complete justification that [we] have built a society that can stand any comparison."
The splicing of a longer and stronger denunciation of the United States into the keynote address suggested the pressure on Honecker to repeat the hard Soviet line on the U.S.-Libya conflict for an audience that included Gorbachev as well as Yasser Arafat, the chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, who also is visiting here.
However, western analysts here said Honecker's speech underlined East Germany's aim of increasing ties with West Germany and seeking new western technology for its industry despite the increase in Soviet-U.S. tensions. Among five priorities listed by Honecker for the coming years were "consistent efforts to expand relations of peaceful coexistence with capitalist states."
Diplomats have expected the congress and Gorbachev's visit to clarify prospects for a groundbreaking visit by Honecker to West Germany this year. Although the 73-year-old East German leader made no direct reference today to the twice-postponed trip, he said that Bonn's participation in the U.S. Strategic Defense Initiative -- research into a space-based antimissile system -- "is complicating relations with the socialist countries."
Gorbachev, who spent most of the day listening to opening speeches, is expected to address the state of East-West relations in a message to the assembly Friday. The Soviet leader's visit here is his first to an East European Communist congress and first to East Berlin since he took power last year.
Honecker's speech, however, offered no hint of East German interest in the themes of economic reform, renovation of managers, steps against corruption and heightened openness and self-criticism that emerged from the Soviet Communist Party Congress in February.
While he praised the Soviet congress, Honecker did not even acknowledge that reforms were under way in Moscow.
While communist leaderships of both Czechoslovakia and Bulgaria were careful to stress at least the rhetoric of Gorbachev's approach at recent congresses in Prague and Sofia, Honecker focused almost exclusively on the successes of his own program during his 15 years in power.
East Germany has recorded the strongest economic performance of any East Bloc country in the last five years, including a 1985 growth rate of 4.5 percent, and boasts the highest living standard in the communist world.
While the country's rigid but streamlined system of central management has been singled out for praise by Gorbachev, Honecker's confident, sometimes aggressive, account of this record excluded criticism of any sector or mention of corruption.
Citing East Germany's advances in microelectronics and other high-tech areas, Honecker implied no new steps were needed to realize the goals of speeding industrial modernization that the East Bloc has adopted under Gorbachev's guidance.
The stress on continuity of policy has extended to personnel. After strengthening his own position by ousting Konrad Nauman, a reputed hard-line opponent, from the Politburo last November, Honecker has made no move to shift the direction of leadership in the party or purge its ranks, and diplomats expect no significant changes in the Politburo or Central Committee to emerge from the five-day congress.
In one passage of his speech seemingly meant to stress East Berlin's prerogative to differ with Moscow, Honecker said that cooperation among communists "is based on the independence and separate responsibility of each party for working out and implementing its own policy." He then referred to "differences in approach" and "differences of opinion" among Communist parties, saying they "must not be allowed to interfere with their joint struggle."
One indication of Honecker's resistance to Gorbachev's style was the failure of congress organizers to follow the Soviet example of arranging press conferences and photo opportunities for journalists.