BONN — Despite their differences on political and human rights questions, East German leader Erich Honecker and West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl signed a series of agreements Tuesday that could pave the way for greater accord.
The agreements, all on technical matters, were signed on the second day of Honecker's visit to West Germany, the first by an East German leader.
Monday had been marked by sharp exchanges between Honecker and Kohl over the East German barriers separating the two countries and the shooting of 188 East Germans trying to escape since the Berlin Wall went up in 1961.
Of the agreements signed Tuesday, Wolfgang Schaeuble, an official of the West German chancellor's office, said: "Despite all our differences, cooperation is developing step by step. We see the talks between Chancellor Kohl and Secretary General Honecker (of the East German Communist Party) as a success."
Germany was divided into Allied zones of occupation after its defeat in World War II. West Germany was established in 1949 after the Western Allies failed to reach agreement with the Soviet Union on steps to be taken affecting the entire country. Moscow established East Germany a few months later.
Honecker, 75, who is also head of the government as chairman of the State Council, on Tuesday invited Kohl to visit East Germany. Kohl accepted, but no date was set.
An East German spokesman, Wolfgang Meyer, told reporters that the talks were an indication that the two Germanys can cooperate even though they have different economic and political systems and belong to rival military alliances.
"By answering confidence with confidence," he quoted Honecker as telling Kohl, "things have started moving, and the GDR (the German Democratic Republic: East Germany) is determined to follow this path."
Meyer also reported that Honecker urged West Germany to fully recognize "the German Democratic Republic as a sovereign state." Bonn refuses to do so on grounds that such recognition would kill any chance for reunification.
As to speculation about reunification, an objective spelled out in the West German constitution, Meyer said this was the stuff of "fireside dreams."
At a dinner he hosted Tuesday night, Honecker used similar language, urging West Germans to give up the "sweet dream" of reunification and accept the fact of two German nations.
Kohl responded by saying: "On the fundamental issues, we are as far apart as ever. No one could expect anything else. . . . I want to say once again on behalf of the federal government--we are firm about the unity of the German nation."
He also called for an end to the shooting of would-be escapees from East Germany, a subject that both leaders had referred to in their speeches Monday night.
The mass-circulation newspaper Bild later quoted a high-ranking West German official as saying that Honecker had lifted shoot-to-kill orders during escape attempts along the border. According to the paper, Honecker made the assurances in talks with Kohl.
There was no official confirmation, however. At a news conference, Schaeuble spoke in general terms about the discussions on the shoot-to-kill orders but did not comment directly on Bild's report.
The agreements signed Tuesday were in the fields of environmental protection, nuclear safety and cooperation in science and technology. The two leaders also agreed in principle to increase tourism and bi-national sports events, to begin a sister-city program and cultural meetings and to return art objects taken by Nazis during the war.
West Germany also offered to help finance improvements in road, rail and power connections between the two countries.
In a joint statement Tuesday, the two leaders referred to arms control agreements being negotiated at Geneva between the United States and the Soviet Union and added:
"The two sides stress the particular importance attaching to an INF (intermediate nuclear force) agreement and stated that the global elimination of U.S. and Soviet INF missiles with ranges over 500 kilometers (300 miles) will lead to considerably increased stability and security in Europe and Asia."
The statement acknowledged the "different viewpoints on fundamental issues, including the national question," but said the two sides "should respect each other's independence and autonomy in internal and external affairs."
Schaeuble, the West German official, said Honecker has indicated that East Germany will adopt a softer policy on permits for allowing East Germans to go to the West.
More than 2.3 million East Germans are expected to visit the West this year, he said, of whom more than half are below retirement age. In the past, the East German government has, with some exceptions, permitted only those over retirement age and receiving a pension to travel to the West.
For his historic trip to the West, Honecker finally obtained permission this year from Moscow after earlier plans fell through. He hopes the visit will establish his country as an independent state in the eyes of West Germans and other Europeans, and not just as a temporary Soviet appendage.