Kohl Retreats, Says He Accepts Polish Borders : Europe: Warsaw cautiously welcomes the news. West Germany will propose a formal treaty Thursday.
Chancellor Helmut Kohl, knuckling under to international pressure on the controversy over Poland’s postwar borders, agreed Tuesday that a reunited Germany will recognize those borders.
Kohl’s chief of staff, Chancellery Minister Rudolf Seiters, said the West German government will propose a motion Thursday in the Bundestag, the lower house of Parliament, calling for a treaty between Poland and a unified Germany to formalize the existing frontier, which follows the line of the Oder and Neisse rivers from the Baltic Sea to Czechoslovakia.
The chancellor also backed down on his demand that Poland agree to drop any claims for war reparations and guarantee the rights of ethnic Germans in Poland in exchange for a border guarantee.
“Mistakes were made on all sides, including by me,” Kohl told reporters.
The Polish government welcomed Kohl’s change of heart but cautioned that it may not be enough.
“It is undoubtedly a step concordant with our expectations,” said Polish government spokesman Zbigniew Augustynowicz. “But it is not yet what Prime Minister (Tadeusz) Mazowiecki proposed. We will observe future developments.”
Mazowiecki had called on Kohl to issue a guarantee as leader of the West German government that a reunited German state would not seek to recover territory in western Poland that was part of the Germany before its defeat in World War II. Kohl had refused, saying that, legally, such matters had to be decided by the government of a reunited nation.
Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev, meeting in Moscow with East German Prime Minister Hans Modrow, said he is glad that Kohl has “corrected” his failure to be specific.
“I welcome that,” Gorbachev said of the news from Bonn. “Lack of clarity on such a fundamental issue does not belong to serious policy.”
Earlier in the day, before meeting Modrow, Gorbachev had warned that any German move to recover territory in the east would be “fraught with serious consequences,” according to the official news agency Tass.
He and Modrow later declared after their talks that it would not be acceptable for a unified Germany to be a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
In Washington, Chairman Claiborne Pell (D-R.I.) of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said West Germany has now provided “necessary assurances” in support of the Polish border, and he dropped action on a sense-of-the-Senate resolution linking the question to U.S. recognition of a united Germany.
“I believe international pressure . . . contributed to Chancellor Kohl’s decision to provide the necessary assurances on the Polish-German border,” Pell said.
Kohl’s decision is also expected to defuse a potential rift with his government’s coalition partners, the Free Democrats, and put to rest concerns that have arisen in much of Europe about the attitudes of a strong new Germany.
Kohl’s aide, Seiters, said the chancellor’s decision to back down was reached at a 3 1/2-hour meeting with the Free Democratic members of the government.
Quoting from the motion that is to be offered Thursday, Seiters said: “The border question should be settled in a treaty between an all-German government and the Polish government that puts the seal on the reconciliation of the two peoples.”
He said the Polish people “should know that their right to live in secure borders will not be thrown into question by territorial claims by Germans, either now or in the future.”
The Bundestag motion, he said, would also call on the Parliament of East Germany to adopt an identically worded motion after the East German elections scheduled for March 18.
Kohl’s refusal to be pinned down before reunification had drawn criticism not only in Poland but also the Soviet Union, France and the United States. At home, he was criticized not only by the opposition Social Democrats but also by the Free Democrats, led by his foreign minister, Hans-Dietrich Genscher, who advocated assuaging Polish fears with a public declaration recognizing existing borders.
Critics suggested that Kohl was jeopardizing the move toward unification by behaving more like a provincial politician than an international statesman with hopes of heading what will be the most powerful country in Europe.
President Bush urged Kohl to make a clear renunciation--on behalf of his government and a united Germany--of all claims to territory east of the Oder-Neisse Line.
The border question dates back to World War II. At the postwar Potsdam conference, the victorious Allied powers ceded to Poland large areas of Germany--parts of Pomerania, Silesia and East Prussia--to compensate for areas of eastern Poland annexed to the Soviet Union. More than 10 million Germans were resettled in what became East and West Germany.
The Germans who were resettled in West Germany formed a small but powerful political bloc that has generally voted conservative, mostly for Kohl’s Christian Democrats or its associated party in Bavaria, the Christian Social Union. Political observers have suggested that Kohl’s reluctance to guarantee the Polish border was basically an effort to avoid losing the support of these voters.
The resettled Germans, many of whom hope someday to return to a homeland reincorporated into Germany, maintain that the border question is an open one pending a final peace treaty between Germany and the Allies.
Their vote is important because of elections in West Germany scheduled for later in the year--state elections followed by national elections in December. The results are expected to be close.
In Moscow, the Soviet news agency Tass quoted Gorbachev as saying: “If anyone wants to use the reunification of the two Germanys to reanimate revanchistic plans, that is irresponsible policy fraught with serious consequences.”
Revanchism is defined as the revengeful spirit that moves a defeated nation to seek aggressively the restoration of lost territories. Kohl and Bush have both taken the position that a united Germany should continue to be a member of NATO, but Gennady I. Gerasimov, spokesman for the Soviet Foreign Ministry, told reporters Tuesday that Gorbachev has “dismissed the idea of a united Germany remaining in NATO.”
He quoted Gorbachev as saying, “It is clear to us that it does make a difference if a united Germany is to be a NATO member.”
CONCERNS OVER GERMANY--Critics say swift reunification process could backfire. A5