West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl has emerged from the economic summit and President Reagan's state visit here in a difficult foreign policy bind, having damaged his standing with the White House and alienated his relations with Paris.
U.S. and West German officials conceded that Reagan's trust and confidence in Kohl have been impaired, perhaps permanently, by the controversial wreath-laying ceremony Sunday at the Bitburg military cemetery, where 49 SS troopers are buried.
The brief cemetery stop, which overshadowed the summit and Reagan's six-day stay here, was intended to symbolize U.S.-German reconciliation 40 years after the war. Instead, it provoked an uproar among Jewish groups and U.S. veterans that, in turn, unleashed torrents of frustration and resentment in West Germany.
While Kohl and Reagan acted in congenial fashion toward each other throughout the visit, there were evident signs of tension between their respective staffs, who have traded recriminations over who was responsible for the fiasco.
"The two leaders may continue to say nice things to each other, but their aides will always have Bitburg on their minds in dealing with future issues," an administration official said.
The opposition Social Democrats expressed their displeasure that Reagan declined to meet party Chairman Willy Brandt during his stay in West Germany. U.S. Ambassador Arthur Burns reportedly recommended that Reagan see the former chancellor in a show of bipartisanship, but his advice was overruled by the White House staff.
A party spokesman said Reagan's indisposition to see Brandt was particularly regrettable since the president has agreed to meet with conservative opposition leaders in Spain and Portugal.
West German newspapers praised Reagan today for fulfilling his promise to go to the cemetery despite the intense domestic opposition. Many publications accused the American news media of whipping up hysteria over an act of postwar amity that was supported, according to opinion polls, by two-thirds of the West German public.
Commentators also noted that Kohl is keenly aware that he owes an immense political debt to the U.S. president. The chancellor was quoted as telling Reagan after the Bitburg visit, "Ron, I will personally never forget what you did."
In an effort to show his appreciation for Reagan's willingness to carry out the cemetery visit in spite of the political furor, Kohl went to unusual lengths to advocate American positions during the seven-nation economic summit.
But Kohl's attempts to compensate Reagan for the political travails he has endured also have created fresh strains on the Bonn-Paris axis, putting in doubt the vows of both governments to undertake dramatic initiatives this year toward a European political union.
The influential Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper observed that Kohl's dilemma is reminiscent of the debate in past decades when Bonn was torn between choosing Gaullist or Atlanticist options in foreign policy.
Conscious of their basic security interests, successive West German governments usually have bent to Washington's line in such disputes, a tendency that seems likely to be repeated now because of Kohl's avowed commitment to honor Reagan's determination to pay tribute to German war dead.
Even before the summit opened, Kohl backed the U.S. call to open a new round of global trade talks by early 1986. He also issued a strong endorsement for research into Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative.
During the meetings, Kohl took the lead, against French wishes, to urge a ringing affirmation of support for the U.S. position at the Geneva arms talks. When the endorsement was included in a political declaration, White House officials expressed satisfaction while the French complained that it was a superfluous gesture at an economic summit.
After resisting Kohl's efforts to broker a compromise over fixing an early date for a new round of trade liberalization talks, French President Francois Mitterrand surprised the Bonn government by announcing that he told Reagan France would not participate in the SDI program, popularly called Star Wars.
France and West Germany have called for a joint European approach to SDI in order to maximize their leverage on the project and to ensure that Europe will be able to share fully in all research findings.
Mitterrand repeated his call for European countries to launch a civilian research program, known as Eureka, that would pool resources in space and advanced technology. He said a European project could be compatible with SDI since some sectors, such as optics and laser research, would overlap with the $26 billion U.S. program to explore possibilities of space-based antimissile defenses.
The French decision has left West Germany in the awkward situation of offending either the Americans or the French when the Kohl government makes a final decision on whether or not it will join the SDI project.
Until now, Bonn has backed both projects, hoping to find a way to reconcile its desire to gain access to lucrative SDI contracts for German firms with its support for a more unified European effort to develop advanced technology.
The West German government announced today that Kohl would meet Mitterrand later this month to discuss SDI and Eureka and see what could be done to salvage a common understanding.
"We are moving toward participation in SDI research because the French have not offered a final blueprint as to where they want to take Eureka," a senior adviser of the chancellor said. "And we are skeptical about Eureka anyway because we know they will end up asking us to pay for it."
The chancellor's office has scheduled a meeting May 13 with leading executives of West German industries that are keenly interested in picking up SDI contracts. A team of West German experts is expected to fly to Washington during the next few weeks to discuss tasks that could be undertaken by German firms in space defense research.
Faced with pressures from the business lobby not to miss out on SDI contracts and budgetary constraints on research funding, close aides to Kohl said they expect the Bonn government to begin active participation in the SDI research program within six months.