BONN, SEPT. 30 -- West German officials expressed confidence today that Defense Minister Manfred Woerner would become the next NATO secretary general amid indications that Norway would withdraw its nomination of a rival candidate to avoid an open contest over the post.
U.S. and French officials suggested strongly that their governments were supporting Woerner's bid to replace Britain's Lord Carrington next June as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's top civilian official.
With Washington and Paris favoring Woerner, the nomination of Norway's former prime minister Kaare Willoch was expected to be withdrawn quietly in the interest of consensus, West German officials and sources in several allied capitals said.
Woerner was considered a significantly stronger candidate than Willoch, principally because West Germany is such an important member of NATO, the sources said.
Chancellor Helmut Kohl announced Woerner's candidacy at a news conference on Aug. 26, at which he also pledged to dismantle 72 West German Pershing IA missiles, whose presence was blocking a U.S.-Soviet arms agreement. Western diplomats have speculated that Woerner, who is known to be opposed to dismantling the Pershing IAs, has kept quiet about the West German concession because of the prospect that he would get the NATO post.
A Norwegian Foreign Ministry spokesman said that Willoch remained a candidate and that he could not comment on "rumors" from Bonn that Woerner was assured of the job, Reuter reported from Oslo.
But the spokesman added that the State Department had told Norway last week that Woerner's candidacy made it more difficult for Willoch.
"We think this game is settled," said a West German official, who spoke on condition that he remain unidentified.
Belgium was supporting Woerner, and Britain and the Netherlands were expected to back him as well, the West German official said. Willoch is said to have the backing of Denmark and Iceland.
The rivalry between Woerner and Willoch marked the first time that there has been a public contest for the job. There are no formal rules for selecting NATO's secretary general, and the position is filled after a consensus is reached through private consultations among allied governments. The secretary general's term has no time limit.
Oslo upstaged Bonn by announcing Aug. 14 that it was proposing Willoch for the NATO job, although Kohl had been campaigning discreetly for Woerner for more than a year.
Woerner, 52, a conservative on security issues, would be the first West German to be the alliance's secretary general. He is a member of Kohl's Christian Democratic Union and has been defense minister since October 1982.