PARIS, JULY 17 -- Foreign ministers of the four victorious World War II Allies, the two Germanys and Poland today laid to rest a dispute over the Polish border and set in motion plans to terminate Four Power rights over Germany by year's end, giving yet another major boost to German unification.
One day after Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev announced that the Soviet Union had dropped its objections to membership of a united Germany in NATO, the foreign ministers met here in a mood of high expectations that the major hurdles to unification have been removed with unexpected swiftness as a result of Gorbachev's decision.
A further reflection of this came today when Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze dropped a demand made last month that the Four Powers -- the United States, the Soviet Union, Britain and France -- retain their authority over a united Germany and gave a green light to termination of the wartime victors' role in German affairs.
"There is no obstacle for a united Germany to be reestablished with its sovereignty by the end of the year," French Foreign Minister Roland Dumas said.
"The outcome that has so long eluded us is now within our reach," Secretary of State James A. Baker III said. Reflecting the uncertainty that had run through earlier talks, British Foreign Minister Douglas Hurd said, "This couldn't have been taken for granted two weeks ago."
In effect, officials said Gorbachev's announcement and today's actions settling the Polish border dispute had reduced the so-called Two-plus-Four talks of the Germanys and the Four Powers to a technical effort by experts.
Amid the high hopes, however, the foreign ministers also confronted publicly some of the difficult and emotional questions being raised about Germany's bid to end 45 years of division.
West German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher, asked what "price" his nation was paying in aid to Moscow to insure the united Germany would be secure in the Western alliance, bristled, saying, "One cannot buy approval. That is something we do not want to do, we could not do." Shevardnadze insisted, "There is no trade and we are not going to trade."
Since the opening of the Berlin Wall in December started the drive toward unification, Soviet leaders have grappled with fears rooted in history about the economic and military power of a united Germany. In Washington last month, Gorbachev recalled the 27 million Soviet World War II dead; later, Shevardnadze expressed concern about the status of Soviet war memorials in what is now East Germany.
To satisfy those fears, West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl this week offered Gorabachev restraints on Germany's future military strength and promises of economic cooperation, to be codified in two treaties with the new Germany within the next 12 months.
Shevardnadze, seeking to explain Gorbachev's decision, said solemnly, "We can trust the German people" to be a "sound partner for all countries."
The Soviet foreign minister said Moscow could not let Germany belong to the Western alliance "when NATO was holding to its positions of the past," but he said the alliance's London summit declaration and Kohl's specific assurances had led to a "qualitatively new" political situation on the continent and "material guarantees of stability in Europe."
Shevardnadze singled out from the July 6 London declaration the acceptance of several Soviet proposals: an enhanced role for the 35-nation Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) and a non-aggression pact between members of NATO and the Warsaw Pact.
Genscher said part of the understanding with Gorbachev is agreement that an all-German army will have a ceiling of 370,000 troops and that those stationed in what is now East Germany -- after a transition of three to four years during which Soviet troops pull out -- "will not have nuclear arms at their disposal."
Genscher said the German forces, for "territorial defense," will remain under the NATO command structure but there will be no foreign forces among them. U.S. officials said later today that these forces would remain under the basic NATO nuclear defense umbrella. Talks on reducing short-range nuclear weapons now stationed in West Germany would begin after the conclusion of a conventional forces agreement now under negotiation in Vienna.
The foreign ministers announced a schedule for wrapping up the details of the so-called Two-plus-Four process that was begun in February to settle the responsibilities of the Four Powers at the time of unification. Dumas said a "final settlement" is expected to be signed at a CSCE summit Nov. 19 in Paris. The foreign ministers will meet again in Moscow Sept. 12 to review a draft of the agreement, and again later that month at the United Nations.
Although both German parliaments had passed resolutions promising to honor the existing Polish border, Polish officials had raised concerns in recent days about the nature and timing of a treaty with Germany. Today, the foreign ministers set down five "principles" that Polish Foreign Minister Krzysztof Skubiszewski said were "entirely satisfactory." Skubiszewski said Poland was dropping its earlier request for a "peace treaty" with Germany and would be satisfied with a border treaty "as soon as possible" after unification takes place. He said a treaty on economic cooperation would come later.
One of the major responsibilities given to the Four Powers after World War II was for Germany's borders, and today Baker said they would be set at the existing area of the two Germanys and Berlin, which is under Four Power control.
To satisfy the Poles, the other nations agreed to language making clear that the unified Germany would have "no territorial claims" to Poland, that the Four Powers would take note of this and that a border treaty would be legally binding.
Baker and Shevardnadze are to meet here Wednesday to take up regional issues and the conventional forces talks.