BONN, JULY 17 -- Triumphant after his surprise accord with Mikhail Gorbachev, Helmut Kohl returned home today to claim the title he has sought for nine months -- chancellor of German unity.
Beaming as he faced West German reporters, Kohl proudly listed the congratulatory phone calls he received early this morning -- from Dutch Prime Minister Ruud Lubbers, Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal, and Louis Ferdinand, grandson of Germany's last Kaiser.
The West German chancellor tried to temper his euphoria by stressing that German unity does not mean the new Germany will go its own way. Rather, he said, the fall of communism and the return of a large, single state to the center of Europe should be part of the unification of the entire continent.
"We will turn a new page of German and European history this year," Kohl said.
As a result of Gorbachev's concessions Monday, not only will a united Germany be part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, but the 360,000 Soviet troops stationed in East Germany will be withdrawn "by 1994 at the latest," Kohl said.
"That means that 50 years after the day on which Soviet troops first entered the then-Reich to fight in World War II, the last Soviet soldiers will withdraw from Germany."
But as this week's controversy over anti-German remarks by a member of the British Cabinet made clear, the achievement of Kohl's objective has not sparked the euphoria in the rest of the Europe that it has in Germany.
Amid all the public backslapping and comments about a historic turning point, policy makers from Washington to East Berlin were privately reeling from the Kohl-Gorbachev accord.
American diplomats had predicted outright that the Kohl-Gorbachev summit would do little more than build confidence between the Soviet Union and a reunifying Germany. While alliance officials generally felt confident that Gorbachev would eventually agree to NATO membership, it was expected that the Soviet leader would wait until late in the year, when German elections are scheduled, in the hope of a better deal. NATO allies were surprised to learn of the Kohl-Gorbachev accord in phone calls from curious reporters Monday afternoon.
Across Europe, leaders of Germany's allies wondered whether Kohl had quietly given away more than he said in wooing Gorbachev to reverse his strongly held position against a fully Western orientation for a united Germany.
But Kohl insisted at his press conference today that he and Gorbachev did not discuss any economic aid for the Soviet Union beyond the credits and other measures previously announced. Kohl did say that Germany is prepared to help the Soviets by building housing for the hundreds of thousands of Soviet troops expected to be withdrawn from Eastern Europe in the next five years.
East German leaders, while supporting the results of the West German-Soviet talks, groused about not having been consulted about the deal.
East German Foreign Minister Markus Meckel, in Paris for the continuing international talks on German unity, said that important differences remain between the two Germanys, especially on how to blend the two countries' armies. Meckel wants East Germany to retain its own independent army; Kohl wants one joint military.
Foreign misgivings about unification were exacerbated by the agreement in Gorbachev's home region of the Caucasus -- a deal that upstaged what the NATO allies expected would be a wider international accord sometime this fall.
Asked today whether the Soviet-German agreement represented a new Rapallo -- the surprise 1922 pact between Weimar Germany and the then-severely isolated Soviet Union -- Kohl called any such comparison "nonsensical."
Western diplomats here said that even before Monday, the Kohl-Gorbachev talks had apparently progressed well beyond what the chancellor had communicated to his allies.
But, according to diplomats here, the West Germans were also surprised by Gorbachev's willingness to give up his long-held opposition to German membership in the Western alliance, announcing that his country's westernmost Warsaw Pact ally, East Germany, was forever lost.
Western officials here said that Gorbachev, who ousted the harshest critics of his foreign policy from the Communist Party leadership last week, seems suddenly free to create his own policy without constantly glancing over his shoulder at opponents in the party and the military.
"There are those on the higher levels who will see it as a defeat," Sergei Sidorov of the Soviet Defense Ministry daily Krasnaya Zvezda told the Reuter news agency. "But they are no longer the ones influencing policy."
Despite rumblings of suspicion from his allies, Kohl was irrepressibly happy today. He even dismissed the comments of British Trade Minister Nicholas Ridley, who was forced to resign last weekend after he called European monetary union "a German racket to take over Europe."
Kohl laughed and called Ridley's remarks "pretty silly," saying they reminded him of his own 1986 gaffe, when he compared Gorbachev to Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels -- a statement that temporarily chilled German-Soviet relations.
"I have every understanding for our neighbors, not least for the British," Kohl said. "The British really did stake their national existence in the struggle against Hitler, more than any other country in the West."
Kohl's confidence seemed reasonable. According to media accounts and radio talk shows, the chancellor -- never a popular figure here -- could do no wrong. Newspapers hailed him as the "man of the hour."
Sensing that he has reached his peak of popularity, Kohl said today, "You will forgive me if I say I intend to win this election."
Even Oskar Lafontaine, Kohl's Social Democratic opponent in the December election, conceded that the chancellor had made a "sensible agreement." Lafontaine has slipped badly in opinion polls, and today he offered little more than a weak smile and the idea that he was relieved not to be the front-runner. "In election campaigns, everything is decided in the last few weeks," he said.