West Germany opposes a plan that would require NATO to decide soon whether to modernize tactical nuclear weapons in Europe, Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher said Friday.
The plan by the Canadian government is a compromise aimed at breaking a NATO deadlock that has pitted West Germany against the United States and Britain.Chancellor Helmut Kohl, whose support at home is rapidly eroding, is insisting that the superpowers hold talks soon on reducing short-range nuclear weapons in Europe, most of which are based in West Germany.
West Germany also wants NATO to postpone the decision until 1992 whether to modernize the missile fleet to give the rockets greater range.
Kohl had a 30-minute telephone conversation with President Bush on Friday. The two leaders discussed the NATO rift, but U.S. opposition to early talks on the missiles remains firm, White House press secretary Marlin Fitzwater said.
"We still believe early talks would be a mistake," Fitzwater said. "Discussions that would lead to a . . . denuclearization of Europe would not be welcome."
Fitzwater said the telephone conversation was initiated by Kohl. He would not give further details.
Canada has proposed that West Germany agree to the modernization and that Washington in turn show its willingness to take up negotiations on short-range weapons with the Soviet Union.
Genscher, asked his view of that idea during an interview with Deutschlandfunk radio, said West Germany's position "is that a decision not be moved up on whether or not we need a replacement (for the missiles) but that it be made at the right point in time, namely 1992."
A government official insisted that Genscher did not mean West Germany was rejecting any proposed solutions to the NATO feud.
"This has been stated before, that we don't think there should be a decision on replacing the missiles before it is necessary," said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonyity.
He said the government would not be giving its official position on any suggested compromises, but they would be discussed privately among the NATO partners.
"Discussions are already under way (within NATO), and every proposal will be examined. Anything is possible," said the official.
The United States and Britain say taking up negotiations on short-range nuclear weapons now could leave the West vulnerable to the superior conventional forces of the Warsaw Pact.
Both nations say they want to see more progress on reducing conventional weapons during talks being held in Vienna.