WEST BERLIN, JULY 3 -- The two Germanys have agreed to complete their rush to unification by holding joint elections on Dec. 2.
East and West Germany intend to take the final step in ending their postwar division 13 months after the opening of the Berlin Wall, creating a new nation with the first all-German vote since 1933.
The East German decision to accept the early date is a victory for Chancellor Helmut Kohl, who hopes to help his own reelection chances by capitalizing on a smooth merger of the two countries.
But the final move is still contingent on the completion of negotiations between the two Germanys and among the four World War II powers who maintain legal rights left over from their occupation of the defeated Third Reich.
Talks between the two Germanys are expected to resume this week. This round of negotiations is to focus on political structure, election laws and thorny legal issues such as property rights. Millions of West Germans have claims to land and houses that were seized by the former Communist government of East Germany.
The talks between the Germanys and the four wartime powers -- Britain, France, the United States and the Soviet Union -- are to resume in Paris later this month. They are expected to end this fall. The major sticking points, Soviet acceptance of unification and what to do with the 360,000 Soviet soldiers stationed in East Germany, will be the subject of Kohl's visit to Moscow July 15.
Details of the Dec. 2 election remain fuzzy, largely because West German political parties are jockeying over whether having East Germans join in voting for a single legislature would help or hurt each party's cause.
The opposition Social Democrats, who expect to win substantial support from East Germans worried about soaring unemployment, want all Germans to vote together.
Kohl's Christian Democrats, wary of being blamed for what they say will be only short-term economic problems in the East, want each country to vote on the same day, but for separate legislatures, which would then merge into one, Western-dominated body.
East Germany's freely elected government, despite its alliance with Kohl's Christian Democratic party, has shown signs of independence, but so far has been unwilling and unable to push the new Germany into adopting East German laws or customs ranging from abortion to right turns on red.
The new round of negotiations is expected to end with the united Germany adopting nearly all aspects of West German law.
Compromises are being prepared on two tough issues. The two countries are moving toward creating a five-year interim period in which each Germany would retain its former laws on abortion, which is legal in the East and largely prohibited in the West.
And on the emotional question of highway speed limits -- currently 58 mph in the East and unlimited in the West -- negotiators are talking about boosting the East German limit to 80 mph while allowing West Germans to keep flooring it.
A few controversial issues -- including a decision on designating Berlin as the united country's capital -- may be put off for discussion by a joint legislature next year, but even those are likely to be won by the West Germans, leaders of both countries agree.
Many prominent German politicians have come out for Berlin, but foreign opposition to a return to Adolf Hitler's Nazi capital and the difficulty of moving the Bonn government there may postpone a decision.