BONN, AUG. 27 -- Chancellor Helmut Kohl, long criticized for lackluster leadership, today began reaping the benefits of newfound decisiveness as he drew widespread praise for his unilateral offer to scrap 72 aging West German missiles whose presence was blocking a U.S.-Soviet disarmament treaty.

Kohl still faced opposition from the Christian Social Union, the small, right-wing Bavarian party allied with his own Christian Democrats. Some politicians and media commentators also complained that the chancellor should have taken the step earlier, because he appeared to have succumbed to pressure from the Soviet Union and domestic political opponents.

But most reaction in political circles and the media was enthusiastic. Kohl was credited in particular with showing unexpected firmness after essentially watching from the sidelines in recent months while his disputatious, center-right coalition fought a number of bruising, self-destructive battles.

"When a chancellor rises like a phoenix from the ashes, this does not just help his own party. {Kohl} also removed doubts about this government's support for disarmament," a commentary in the daily Koelner Stadt-Anzeiger said.

Kohl helped to ensure a cordial atmosphere for an unprecedented and politically sensitive visit to West Germany by East German chief of state Erich Honecker Sept. 7 to 11. East German Foreign Ministry spokesman Wolfgang Meyer welcomed Kohl's announcement, saying that "nothing more could stand in the way" of a U.S.-Soviet accord.

Kohl moved immediately to capitalize on what one newspaper called his increased "stature." In his first campaign appearance in the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein in advance of provincial elections there on Sept. 13, Kohl said his government had played a determining role in guaranteeing a "real chance" that Washington and Moscow would sign an arms control treaty this year.

Kohl pledged yesterday that West Germany would scrap its 72 intermediate-range Pershing IA missiles and not replace them with more modern weapons if the United States and the Soviet Union dismantled their own intermediate-range missiles as planned under the treaty. West Germany would dismantle its missiles after all of the U.S. and Soviet weapons were removed, Kohl said.

The Pershing IAs, with a range of 460 miles, are in the category of weapons to be eliminated under the treaty, but they have a peculiar hybrid status. West Germany owns the missiles while the United States controls the warheads.

As a result, the United States had contended that the weapons are West German and therefore outside the scope of the bilateral, U.S.-Soviet treaty being negotiated. The Soviets insisted that the U.S.-controlled warheads on the Pershing IAs had to be destroyed, since the treaty provides for dismantling all U.S. missiles and warheads with ranges between 300 and 3,500 miles. They said the issue was the principal obstacle to an agreement.

Some government and diplomatic sources here said Kohl had little choice but to abandon the missiles, because the U.S. and West German arguments for keeping them seemed unpersuasive.

In particular, these sources said, it was difficult for the United States to argue that the warheads were West German just because Bonn owned the missiles. West Germany is may not to have nuclear weapons under the 1968 Non-Proliferation Treaty and agreements that established the Western European Union in the mid-1950s.

"The Americans' argument at Geneva was legally correct, but it did not stand up very well in terms of public opinion," a Western European diplomat said.

The only significant sour note struck here was by Franz Josef Strauss, leader of the Christian Social Union. He attacked the chancellor for failing to clear the announcement with him and suggested that the Pershing IAs should be kept as a bargaining chip for future arms control negotiations.

But Kohl was careful before his announcement to line up support from conservatives in his own Christian Democratic Union, the dominant party in his coalition. In particular, he obtained the reluctant endorsement of hard-line parliamentary leader Alfred Dregger.

Kohl also was assured of support from the Free Democrats, the moderate partner in his three-party coalition. Consequently, government and political sources expressed confidence that Strauss ultimately would back down.

Kohl's action yesterday stood in sharp contrast to his waffling in the spring over whether to broaden the proposed arms control treaty to cover missiles with ranges between 300 and 600 miles as well as those in the 600-to-3,500-mile category.

In that debate, Kohl refrained from committing himself while the conservatives and Free Democrats squabbled. His government's foot-dragging irritated virtually every government in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the Warsaw Pact, and voters expressed their displeasure by rebuffing Kohl's Christian Democrats in two state elections in May.

"Kohl apparently learned his lesson in the spring," a European diplomat commented.