The State Department's second-ranking official says Eastern Europe is in the throes of "dramatic change," with a strong desire for closer ties to the West and withdrawal of Soviet troops from the region.
The East European countries "are beginning to return to their historical position where they were independent countries, part of Europe, associated with the West economically, politically," John Whitehead said in an interview Wednesday. "I believe they are beginning to return to historically their more normal position."Whitehead, who returned recently from an 11-day visit to the six Soviet allies in the region, said the pace of change is uneven, with Poland and Hungary at the forefront, Romania lagging behind and Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia and East Germany "somewhere in between."
"The impression of my trip is that there is dramatic change going on in Eastern Europe, not everywhere," he said. "This is a very favorable change from the point of view of the United States."
Whitehead, whose formal title is deputy secretary of state, has made six trips to Eastern Europe as part of his role as Secretary of State George P. Shultz's principal liaison with countries of the area. Part of his assignment is to encourage the changes now taking place.
The administration has felt that with the ambitious political and economic reform movement in the Soviet Union under President Mikhail S. Gor-bachev, change was inevitable in Eastern Europe and officials have been monitoring developments there far more closely than before.
A major exception to the reform movement now under way is Romania where, Whitehead said, an "absolutely outrageous" human rights situation exists as a result of a government plan to demolish up to 7,000 villages under an agricultural modernization project.
He said the people in these villages are being moved to "cement block barrackslike structure" with no running water and no toilets.
"You can imagine living in an apartment house with no toilets. It's pretty atrocious," Whitehead said.
He said the four countries where the Soviets have stationed troops - East Germany, Hungary, Poland, Czechoslovakia - are hopeful for the withdrawal of these forces and are not insisting that it take place in the context of an American troop pullback from Western Europe.
He added, however, that he does not foresee the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact as "imminent or likely."
There are an estimated 380,000 Soviet troops in East Germany, 80,000 in Czechoslovakia, 65,000 in Hungary and 40,000 in Poland.
Whitehead said the changes taking place in the region are the result of popular pressure.
"Governments are not immune from the dissatisfaction of their people," he said, adding that there is widespread recognition in the six countries that they are "slipping farther and farther behind" the West in every way.