BONN (Mar. 2)
Experts of the ruling Social Democratic Party (SPD) and its junior coalition partner, the Free, Democrats, will hold a special meeting next week to decide whether to support any deviation from West Germany’s long-standing policy of not selling weapons to countries in “areas of tension.”
The government, and Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, have been pressing in recent months for a relaxation of that rule in the case of Saudi Arabia. While members of both coalition parties concede that the government alone is in charge of arms exports, they demand a voice in the special consultative body on the subject.
The debate has been prompted by the pending arms deal with the Saudis who are interested in buying the recently updated model of Germanys Leopard II tank and scores of other weapons systems. The Saudi government has been negotiating for the past two years with arms manufacturers in West Germany. Agreements have been reached with two producers involving the Leopard tanks. All that is required to consummate a deal is political approval.
Schmidt is said to be campaigning within his own party for a modification of the arms sales rules. But with the coalition in trouble on both domestic and foreign policy fronts, he is not likely to provoke a quarrel with opponents of arms sales to the Saudis.
Meanwhile, Hans-Juergen Wischnewski, one of the architect’s of Bonn’s pro-Arab policies, has accused Premier Menachem Begin of disturbing efforts to improve West German-Israeli relations. Wischnewski, an aide to the Chancellor, was referring to Begin’s attack on Schmidt last week for having allegedly told a Paris periodical that he would not visit Israel unless Begin apologized for his personal attack last June.
Begin exhorted Schmidt to “get down on his knees and beg forgiveness” of the Jewish people for Nazi crimes against them and vowed he would never apologize. Wischnewski said Begin’s latest attack on Schmidt was based on a false newspaper report. Government sources said Schmidt did not consider a trip to Israel to be consistent with his Middle East policies. He was first invited there in 1975 and again in 1977.