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Road to united Germany bumpy

BONN - Leaders of both Germanys on Wednesday welcomed the agreement of the wartime allies to join in shaping a united Germany, but there were indications that many obstacles remain to achieving that goal. As if to begin the process, West Germany approved $3.6-billion in aid for East Germany to keep its economy afloat and prevent its citizens from fleeing in frustration until the two nations become one.

An additional $1-billion was approved to resettle East Germans who come to the West.

The vote on the additional aid came the day after Germany's major opponents in the war - the United States, the Soviet Union, Britain and France - agreed in Ottawa to shape a negotiating framework for German reunification.

It also coincided with the conclusion of a visit by the East German prime minister, Hans Modrow, who failed in his bid to get $9-billion in emergency money and left showing his disappointment.

None of the money in the supplemental budget will be dispersed by Modrow's interim government, which ends after parliamentary elections March 18.

Before leaving, Modrow welcomed the Ottawa decision, which he said was the best means of protecting German and allied interests.

Chancellor Helmut Kohl's spokesman declared that Bonn "greets the creation and contents of the Ottawa agreement."

The strongest plaudits came from a spokesman for Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher, who played a major role in shaping the agreement.

"We see this as an exceptionally important development and a great success for the West German foreign minister, an important step toward German unity," the spokesman said.

There was a sense in Bonn that the agreement in Ottawa, following by two days a go-ahead to unity from Moscow, had lifted the last major historical obstacles to unification and left the Germans clear now to start patching together their severed land.

But even as these hurdles were cleared, signs were gathering that the mechanics of reunification could prove at least as difficult and contentious as winning the political green light.

On the international front, the Ottawa decision still left unresolved the critical issue of the place of a united Germany in the security alignment of Europe. The Western allies continued to insist that it could not be neutral, and therefore that Germany had to remain in NATO. Moscow insisted that it could not be other than neutral.

Also lost in the swirl of the moment were the repeated signals from Moscow that it would insist on maintaining as much influence as possible over the future Germany.

The Kremlin's repeated insistence that "everything must be done so that the threat of fascism never again emanates from German soil," for example, was likely to prove more than an oratorical flourish once the talks began.

"These six-power negotiations are going to be brutal," a Western diplomat said. "Things have happened so quickly that many Germans seem to think the rest will be as easy. But the next six to nine months are going to be a very nervous and tense time."

There was a faint echo in this warning of the first postwar years, when the victorious allies haggled inconclusively for years over Germany's fate, until in 1948 the three Western allies agreed on a central government for their occupation zones, which came to form West Germany. East Germany was formed in the Soviet zone soon after.

The difference, however, was that a defeated Germany had little say over its fate then. Now, it is the Germans who are setting the agenda and leading the way to their union, and the allies seem to be struggling to keep up.

For now, Kohl and Genscher joined NATO in insisting that Germany must remain in the Western camp. But a public-opinion poll by the Wickert Institute found that 9 out of 10 East Germans, and more than half of West Germans, thought a reunified Germany should be neutral.

Such sentiments were not likely to be ignored in an election year.

On the internal side, the mix of intense election-year politicking, a continuing exodus from East Germany and uncertainty over the cost and effects of union tempered expectations with anxiety.

At the center of the action, Kohl appears to be barreling ahead toward unity with a single-mindedness that borders on the aggressive.

The attitude was demonstrated in his cavalier treatment of the visiting Modrow. Evidently sensing that East Germany's caretaker prime minister was politically powerless, Kohl gave him a negligent welcome and used the meeting largely to announce a preparatory committee for monetary union.

Modrow made no secret of his disappointment. Both he and his delegation seemed especially to bridle at Kohl's refusal to grant the $9-billion that they had requested in "solidarity aid." Asked directly if he was disappointed, Modrow answered, "If you say it that way, yes."

In pressing for monetary union, Kohl argued that the step was critical to stem the exodus from the East and to prevent the disintegration of East Germany. But to many in both East and West his eyes seemed fixed more on the gathering political race for West German national elections Dec. 2.

Some economists and diplomats in West Germany have argued that the call for quick economic union glossed over the complexity and dislocation of the move. Both in East and West Germany, people increasingly worry over the social benefits so dear to the Germans.

Der Spiegel magazine featured an article on the subject on its cover this week. The magazine cited the popular slogan, "Germany, United Fatherland," and added, "It could become an expensive one."

West Germans, the magazine said, were wondering "who is going to pay for all this," if the East Germans' "wages, pensions and subsidies are also paid in deutsche marks."

"And if the strong mark is threatened and Bonn has to go deeper into debt, will taxes rise?" the article asked.

The anxiety was even sharper in East Germany, where the introduction of the deutsche mark threatened to upset not only savings and pensions, but to drive uncompetitive enterprises rapidly out of business and their employees out of work.

"Someone who speaks quickly and happily only of an unstable (East Germany) or its troubled economy must be asked in the end if he does not want to lower the price of unification to the disadvantage of the people," Modrow said at a news conference Tuesday.

But many West Germans seemed increasingly to accept the prospect that whatever the cost of monetary union, there was no other choice, and to feel that it was best to act quickly.

"What does economics count in times like these?" asked Edzard Reuter, the head of Daimler Benz. "It's a political decision. I think it's politically correct, and we all have to support it."