BONN, OCT. 22 -- French President Francois Mitterrand today ended a high-profile visit to West Germany during which he sought to calm Bonn's longstanding fears over whether Paris ever would fire its short-range nuclear missiles at a Warsaw Pact invasion force after it entered West Germany.
The four-day trip, Mitterrand's first state visit to this country in his six years in office, underlined both nations' desires to forge a strong Franco-German relationship that could serve as the nucleus for improved European-wide cooperation on security issues.
But West German officials cautioned that any fundamental decisions about Franco-German defense collaboration would have to wait until after the French presidential elections in late spring.
As a result, the Mitterrand visit was viewed largely as an opportunity for him to polish his image as an international statesman prior to the elections, although he has not yet announced whether he will seek a second term.
Mitterrand urged West Germany to play a more active role in European space efforts and called for creation of a common European currency and a European central bank. But the trip was dominated by defense topics, and especially by the question of France's intentions for its short-range missiles.
West German officials welcomed Mitterrand's carefully worded suggestions that France should not use its Pluton missiles against West German territory, even though the weapons' 75-mile range makes them unsuitable for any other conceivable purpose.
France instead should rely on its submarine-based, long-range missiles -- which can strike the Soviet Union -- as its nuclear deterrent, Mitterrand indicated.
"One cannot affirm that France's last warning to the aggressor would be delivered on German territory . . . . The nuclear strategy of France is addressed at the aggressor and at him alone, and to dissuade him, and let us never forget that," Mitterrand said in a toast after a dinner hosted by West German President Richard von Weizsaecker.
A West German official said Mitterrand's comments marked the first time "that he has put the issue so much in the center of a speech."
But the official noted that Bonn believes that Mitterrand's view differed from that of conservative French Premier Jacques Chirac, who shares power with the Socialist president in the perpetually unstable arrangement known as "cohabitation."
Chirac's government has authorized development of a new short-range missile, the Hades, despite Mitterrand's well-known doubts about the program.
The Hades, which would have a range of 220 miles, would be able to reach East Germany. But that is little comfort to Bonn, which still officially insists that the division of Germany is only a temporary phenomenon and that France should not use nuclear weapons against Germans east or west.
A spokesman for Chirac, who commented after Mitterrand's statements aroused a flurry of interest in Paris, said the president's "interesting" declarations were being examined carefully. He said there were "nuances but no differences" between Chirac and Mitterrand on defense issues.
Despite the spokesman's statement, the issue of Franco-German defense cooperation is known to be a touchy issue between Chirac and Mitterrand.
For example, Chirac recently expressed doubts over plans to establish a Franco-German defense council. Mitterrand surprised even some senior West German officials last month when he announced that he and Chancellor Helmut Kohl had agreed in principle to create the council.
West German officials said plans for the council still were in a preliminary stage. They expressed frustration about the political division at the heart of the French government.
"If Mitterrand says yes, then Chirac feels obliged to say no, and vice versa," a Bonn official said.