A Soviet guard shot and killed a U.S. Army major in East Germany in an incident President Reagan today called an "unwarranted tragedy." The Soviets said the officer was "caught red-handed" photographing a Soviet military installation.
In Washington, Administration officials said the U.S. mission in Berlin filed a protest to the Soviet Union over the Sunday shooting and the Soviet Embassy in East Berlin protested the incident.
The Army identified the dead officer as Maj. Arthur Donald Nicholson Jr., 37, of West Redding, Conn.
Pentagon officials said the officer was accompanied by an unidentified sergeant who also was fired upon but not injured during the incident in Ludwigslust, 85 miles northwest of Berlin, where a number of Soviet military installations are located. The Soviets delivered the sergeant, the only American witness, to U.S. authorities today and he was debriefed.
Zone Not Restricted
Administration sources said the two men were watching military training at the time of the shooting but were not in a restricted zone. The sergeant was prevented from administering first aid to Nicholson after he was shot and the officer died an hour later, the sources said.
Both men were "probably not armed," Pentagon officials said.
"We're resentful and feel it's an unwarranted tragedy," Reagan said at a breakfast session with reporters.
Later, when told that the Soviets were saying Nicholson was a spy and asked if he was, Reagan said, "we were doing nothing except what was empowered under the agreement" that divided Germany after World War II. Reagan said Americans are permitted to take photographs in East Germany.
Asked if the shooting would jeopardize the possibility of a summit meeting with Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev, Reagan said, "No, it would make me more anxious to go to one."
Soviets Express Regrets
State Department spokesman Bernard Kalb said the Soviets "have expressed their regret" over Nicholson's death.
Vladimir Kulagin, first secretary in the Soviet Embassy in Washington, said two U.S. officers attached to the military liaison mission in Potsdam, about 25 miles west of West Berlin, "despite the presence of clearly visible warning signs in Russian and German, entered the territory of a restricted military installation. . . .
"One of the U.S. officers, wearing a camouflage suit and carrying a photocamera, penetrated directly into the territory of this installation, where he photographed the combat equipment which was there.
"Caught red-handed by a Soviet sentry guarding that equipment, he did not comply with his orders and after a warning shot while attempting to escape, he was killed."
Knew Russian Language
The Army said Nicholson was fluent in Russian and was assigned to the Potsdam mission in February, 1982.
Defense sources said the mission serves as a training ground for American military officers to become experts on Soviet armed forces and that unofficially, members of the mission spy on Soviet forces in East Germany. In turn, the sources said, the Soviets conduct espionage on American forces from their mission in West Germany.
U.S. and Soviet members of the respective liaison missions, set up under a postwar agreement, are permitted to travel freely in East and West Germany except for restricted military areas.
"This did not happen in a restricted military area," a Pentagon official said, requesting anonymity.
Nicholson's body was delivered today to U.S. forces at the Glienicke Bridge, which connects the Potsdam area with the American sector of Berlin, and will be transported to the United States, officials said.