Kohl’s Denial Conflicts With Newsweek Tape

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Times Staff Writer

Chancellor Helmut Kohl told the Bundestag on Thursday that Newsweek magazine misquoted him when it said he compared Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev with Josef Goebbels, Adolf Hitler’s minister of propaganda. But a tape recording of the interview, released by the magazine, called his statement into question.

Kohl, speaking before the lower house of the National Assembly, continued to maintain that Newsweek had distorted his remarks, which were made in an interview two weeks ago.

In the magazine, Kohl was quoted as saying of Gorbachev: “He is a modern Communist leader who knows something about public relations. Goebbels, one of those responsible for the crimes of the Hitler era, was an expert in public relations, too.”


On the Newsweek tape, played for reporters in Bonn, Kohl is heard to say, in German: “This is a modern Communist leader--never never in Hollywood, never in California. But he understands something about public relations. Goebbels was an expert at public relations, too.”

Followed by Laughter

On the recording, the reference to Goebbels is followed by laughter, but the Newsweek bureau chief in Bonn, Andrew Nagorski, said he is not sure who was laughing.

Nagorski said that before publication, a transcript of the interview was given to Kohl’s chief press spokesman, Friedhelm Ost, and that Ost suggested adding a phrase identifying Goebbels for American readers.

Nagorski said he agreed, “although we felt that this was unnecessary.”

German sources say that Ost should have stricken the reference to Goebbels when he had the chance to do so, particularly since it was necessary to excise some parts of the interview because of space considerations.

Press Officers Criticized

“Kohl’s press people really mishandled this one,” a government source said.

Ost admits that he should have deleted the offending passage.

The fact that the chancellor’s office did not object to the interview until five days after it appeared on newsstands indicated, some sources said, that neither Kohl nor Ost realized the explosive nature of the remark.

Accounts of the incident have appeared on the front pages of West German newspapers, and reports from Vienna in the press here indicate that relations between Bonn and Moscow have been impaired by the remarks.


Main Topic in Vienna

The remarks attributed to Kohl were the main topic of discussion Tuesday at a meeting in Vienna of Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze and Hans-Dietrich Genscher, the West German foreign minister.

Shevardnadze is said to have conveyed to Genscher the extreme displeasure of Gorbachev and the Soviet government, even though Genscher made it clear that Kohl had disassociated himself from the remarks.

Government sources said privately Thursday that Kohl, who will face reelection in January, would like to exchange official visits with the Soviet leader.

“It is certainly not my intention to upset General Secretary Gorbachev or indeed to insult him,” Kohl told the Bundestag on Thursday.

‘False Impression’

“The false impression was conveyed that I wanted to compare General Secretary Gorbachev with Goebbels. That was never my intention. I regret very much that this impression has arisen and would like to stress that I distance myself from it. My wish is that with this statement I may have helped ensure that relations can further develop without any difficulties,” Kohl added.