MOSCOW — Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev on Saturday assured West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl of Soviet support for the early reunification of Germany at a pace and in a way determined by East and West Germany themselves.
Gorbachev, reaffirming what Moscow regards as the German "right of self-determination," in effect cleared the way for the opening on Tuesday of preliminary negotiations between East Berlin and Bonn on reunification by pledging to respect the outcome.
"Germans themselves should make their choice in what state forms, what periods at what pace, and under what conditions they will be realizing their unity," Gorbachev told Kohl, according to an official statement.
Kohl, clearly jubilant, told a late-night press conference, "Gorbachev and I agreed that it is the sole right of the German people to decide whether they want to live in one state. He told me unmistakably that the Soviet Union will respect the German decision. This is a very good day for Germany."
Hans-Dietrich Genscher, the West German foreign minister, said that an understanding was also reached during his talks with Eduard A. Shevardnadze, the Soviet foreign minister, on a negotiating framework and an accelerated timetable that envisions a fully ratified agreement by the end of this year.
The agreement reached between East Berlin and Bonn will be put before the four victorious Allied powers of World War II--Britain, France, the Soviet Union and the United States--for approval and then for presentation to an all-European summit conference at the end of the year, Genscher said.
While the negotiations are expected to be complicated, particularly because the question of German reunification is racing ahead of European security and disarmament issues with which it must be coordinated, the Soviet declaration was regarded by West German officials as laying the foundation for the talks.
"The unification of the two German states will take place in an orderly way," Genscher said.
Soviet approval of the negotiating framework was also significant, West German officials said, because it recognizes the priority of the agreement between East and West Germany, effectively settles how the interests of Germany's neighbors will be dealt with and accepts the accelerated pace of change in East Germany.
With popular and political pressure building in East Germany for speedy reunification, there has been growing apprehension that the negotiations necessary on such a difficult issue will be overtaken by actual events.
Asked how quickly the two states could merge, Kohl said he believes this will follow the parliamentary elections in East Germany next month and the subsequent efforts to form a government.
Kohl, who is on a diplomatic push that will take him to Paris, London and Washington after meetings on Tuesday and Wednesday with East German Prime Minister Hans Modrow in Bonn, is seeking to "get ahead of the curve," as a Soviet foreign affairs specialist said.
"He wants to get as much of the agreement in place, if he can, before the people on the streets in Germany start dictating its terms. We understand and want to cooperate."
Gorbachev cautioned the West German leader during their nearly three hours of talks in the Kremlin to take a "balanced," even "cautious," approach to the question of German reunification to ensure that present European stability is maintained, according to an official account of the meeting distributed by the Soviet news agency Tass.
"German rapprochement should not damage positive results achieved in (the European security) process or in East-West relations as a whole and upset the European balance," Gorbachev said.
"Only such a policy is acceptable that takes into account all realities and all possible aftermaths--domestic and foreign policy and economic consequences and, naturally, a psychological reaction of Germans and other countries, especially those that participated in the Second World War," the Soviet leader continued.
"The solution of the German question is inseparable from the success of the disarmament talks in Europe, from the changing role of the two military and political alliances and from questions concerning the presence of foreign troops in European states."
Despite these strong Soviet caveats, Kohl felt that he had secured a major diplomatic breakthrough in his talks with Gorbachev, and he pledged that the negotiations, now certain to be accelerated, will be coordinated with the superpowers, with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the Warsaw Pact and with other European countries.
The understanding with Moscow is important for Bonn, West German officials said, because it means that the Soviet Union indeed recognizes the German right of self-determination and will not attempt to use its still considerable influence in East Berlin in an attempt to shape the agreement, nor will it impose conditions on the agreement with the threat of a veto.