BONN, JULY 15 -- East German leader Erich Honecker will make an official visit to West Germany in September in what would be the first trip to this country by an East German head of state, both governments announced today.
Honecker will visit West Germany from Sept. 7 through Sept. 11 at the invitation of Chancellor Helmut Kohl, senior chancellery official Wolfgang Schaeuble said. The trip will include two days of talks in Bonn and visits to four West German states including the Saarland in the southwest, where Honecker was born, Schaeuble said.
The trip was confirmed by East Germany's official news agency ADN.
The trip would mark a breakthrough in relations between the two German states, which were created after the country was divided at the end of World War II. It would be a major domestic political boost for Kohl and his conservative Christian Democratic Party and would satisfy Honecker's longstanding desires to visit his birthplace and to bolster his country's diplomatic stature in the West.
"This is certainly not a normal event," Schaeuble said in a television interview. "It is an occurrence that is certain to arouse many differing and deeply divergent feelings among many Germans in both parts of our fatherland," he added.
The long-awaited trip by Honecker to West Germany was planned earlier but scrapped because of intense opposition by the Soviet leadership. Moscow has been reluctant to let the two Germanys improve relations, partly out of historical fears rooted in the memory of two invasions of Russia in this century by a then-united Germany.
The Soviets also have exploited "the German question" for diplomatic benefits in the East-West arena. When Honecker called off a visit to West Germany in September, 1984, less than a month before it was to have taken place, it was widely believed that Moscow had forced him to change his plans to punish Bonn for deploying U.S. medium-range nuclear missiles.
Western diplomats said the Honecker visit appeared to be possible now because of a warming of East-West relations due to progress toward a U.S.-Soviet treaty to remove such missiles from Europe.
The diplomats also linked the trip to an improvement this year in Bonn's relations with Moscow. Last week, West German President Richard von Weizsaecker made the first official visit to the Soviet Union by a West German head of state in 12 years. Kohl has invited Soviet party leader Mikhail Gorbachev to visit Bonn during the first half of 1988.
The western diplomats cautioned that Moscow could use the threat of canceling the trip as a way to influence Bonn. They suggested, for instance, that Moscow might use it as leverage to press Bonn to agree to remove 72 Pershing Ia missiles as part of the proposed arms control bargain. West Germany, backed by the United States, wants to exclude the Pershing Ias from the deal.
The proposed Honecker visit "is a bone that Moscow throws to the West Germans, and lets them salivate over it, but the bone could be pulled back," a western diplomat here said.
The Bonn government released few details about the trip, and the announcement reportedly was arranged hastily this evening after the government learned that the plans had been leaked to one or more West German newspapers.
The daily newspaper Die Welt, which has good government sources, said Honecker would visit Karl Marx's birthplace in Trier and his own home town of Wiebelskirchen where his sister still lives. Honecker also will visit an industrial area in North Rhine-Westphalia and the Bavarian capital of Munich for talks with veteran conservative politician Franz Josef Strauss, the newspaper said. Strauss has played a central role in the past in negotiating credits for East Germany.
Schaeuble said the Bonn government had set no conditions for Honecker's trip. But he said he assumed that the occasion would be used for signing an already drafted treaty on environmental protection. An agreement also could be signed on scientific and technological cooperation, Schaeuble said.
Schaeuble's announcement showed that the West German government had yielded to the East Germans in granting Honecker's wish to visit Bonn.
In planning for the 1984 visit, the West Germans had ruled out a trip to the capital. In the mirrored complexities of inter-German politics, it was feared that a Honecker trip to Bonn would indirectly lend legitimacy to East Germany's claim, rejected by the West, that its capital is East Berlin.