IN his first face-to-face meeting with President Clinton today, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl will focus more on world issues such as Russia and the Yugoslav war than on German-American matters, which he views as less urgent at the moment.
Had his visit been a week earlier, the chancellor might have shifted uneasily in his chair when the subject of Yugoslavia came up. At that time, it was not clear if German troops would be able to play a role in enforcing a no-fly zone over Bosnia-Herzegovina should the United Nations approve such a mission.
Mr. Kohl's Cabinet was deeply split over whether such German participation would be constitutional. This uncertainty raised questions about Germany's credibility as a NATO partner.
But late Wednesday night, members of Kohl's coalition government here struck a compromise that will most likely result in Germans remaining on board AWACS reconaissance aircraft, which play a key role in the flight ban.
The Kohl Cabinet also agreed Wednesday to send three military cargo planes to join United States flights dropping food and medical supplies over Bosnia. And it announced it would deploy patrol boats along the Danube River in Romania and Bulgaria to help enforce the trade embargo against Serbia.
"Given the limitations, the chancellor did all he could" to step up the German contribution vis-a-vis Yugoslavia, says a Bonn official. Wednesday's decisions should "buttress his status" in Washington, he adds.
In a press conference yesterday, Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel said he expected Germany's partners to "welcome" the cabinet's compromise.
Mr. Kinkel admits the compromise is odd. According to the agreement, the majority members of Kohl's Cabinet will vote to keep German troops on board the AWACS. But the minority Cabinet members, led by Kinkel, will vote to take them off.
Kinkel and his party, the Free Democrats, will then ask Germany's Constitutional Court to make a speedy review (within 48 hours) of the decision. It is expected that the court will rule that German participation is in accord with the Constitution. Kinkel said troops would not take part in an enforcement mission until the court approves.
Even if the Court rules, as expected, in favor of German participation in flight-ban enforcement, it would probably be a narrow ruling and not settle the central question as to whether the German deployment of troops in combat situations outside the NATO area is in line with the Constitution.
After the glaring absence of German troops in the Gulf war, Somalia, and Yugoslavia, the government introduced a bill to the Bundestag this winter that seeks to change the Constitution and allow deployment in world peacekeeping missions.
But the legislation lacks the necessary support of the opposition Social Democrats, who argue that pacifist public opinion does not support a worldwide role for German soldiers.
Public opinion is changing, however. Night after night, Germans watch gruesome news reports of the atrocities in the Yugoslav war. Frustration is growing that Bonn appears to be doing nothing to stop the bloodshed. The overwhelming ratio of mail received by the chancellory shows support, for instance, for German planes assisting in the humanitarian aid-drop over Bosnia.
Kohl tried to resolve as many open questions on the former Yugoslavia as he could before meeting Mr. Clinton. This rounds out his trio of discussion topics, which also include trade and the difficult position of Russian President Boris Yeltsin.
As one of the Western leaders with the most personal contact with President Yeltsin, Kohl wants to share his Yeltsin experiences with Clinton, as the new president prepares for his first summit with the Russian leader.
In terms of Western aid for Russia, Kohl will emphasize the "micro" approach of visible technical and humanitarian assistance for the Russians. The Germans point out that "macro" aid - in the form of credits, debt rescheduling, and ruble stabilization - has made little headway because of Russia's inability to meet the criteria for that aid.