BONN, Germany -- The German government's support of former Chancellor Willy Brandt's mission to Iraq -- just five days after Germany agreed with other European Community leaders to discourage such ventures -- has raised doubts about the prospects of political cohesion in the face of the crisis in the Persian Gulf.
Chancellor Helmut Kohl gave Mr. Brandt, the popular Nobel Prize winner and president of the Socialist International, his best wishes for success in Iraq, along with a 267-seat Lufthansa jet loaded with medicines paid for by the Foreign Ministry, the same week European Community leaders in Rome agreed to a German request by unanimously pledging not to send representatives to negotiate hostage releases with Baghdad and to discourage private visits.
Community leaders, in their joint declaration, reasoned that such missions would lessen the isolation of Saddam Hussein and weaken the coalition aligned against Iraq.
Community diplomats said that Mr. Kohl, in suggesting the Rome resolution, had hoped to discourage Mr. Brandt from making his planned trip. When the resolution failed to do so, Mr. Kohl apparently decided it would be better to support the mission than to be seen as doing nothing to try to release German hostages just before his Christian Democratic Union contests elections here.
"Undoubtedly, upon reflection, several officials, especially [Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich] Genscher, realized it wasn't playing well in the German equivalent of Peoria to be perceived as inactive on the hostage issue," said one diplomat.
Mr. Brandt is just one of a stream of political figures to come away with a handful of hostages in exchange for meeting the Iraqi leader. More than 170 Westerners, most of them Germans, returned with Mr. Brandt to Frankfurt on Friday. But this still leaves nearly 2,000 other Westerners -- potent bait for politicians.
So many foreign politicians have been approaching Baghdad, in fact, that Anker Joergensen, Denmark's former prime minister, was told last Sunday that he would have to wait until traffic eased up before he could proceed with his trip to Baghdad from a stopover in Amman, Jordan.
He arrived moments before Mr. Brandt left, as did David Lange, former prime minister of New Zealand.
Former British Prime Minister Edward Heath and former Japanese Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone recently gained freedom for some of their citizens. Mr. Heath got out only 33 of the 1,350 British citizens, while Mr. Nakasone gained the release of 77 Japanese and 29 Westerners.
Although the French government repeatedly has denied negotiating the release of all its 261 hostages last month, former Foreign Minister Claude Cheysson has not denied Iraqi reports of a secret meeting between him and Iraqi officials before the release.
These leaders have come out publicly in favor of a "diplomatic solution" to the confrontation in the Persian Gulf -- at precisely the moment the U.N. Security Council appears ready to approve a U.S.-backed resolution authorizing the use of force to pressure Iraq out of Kuwait should sanctions fail.
Mr. Brandt made it clear from the start that his mission was not just a personal one to win freedom for German hostages. He reportedly was also discussing a plan formulated by the Socialist International to settle the dispute.
Though he has not unveiled details of the proposal, it reportedly does not call for a return to the status quo before the Iraqi invasion -- as U.N. resolutions demand.
Before leaving Baghdad on Friday, Mr. Brandt came out in apparent support of Mr. Hussein's Aug. 12 call for a linkage between the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait and the Israeli occupation of territories seized during the 1967 war.
"I got the impression that the August 12th initiative has not received enough attention, especially in Europe," Mr. Brandt said.
What has distinguished Mr. Brandt's visit from Mr. Heath's or Mr. Nakasone's is not just his international stature, but the government's public backing of it and Bonn's rapid abandonment of a common European policy in favor of national -- or an even narrower political party -- interest.
The fissure in the common European position is disturbing European leaders.
"The Netherlands is troubled to see these missions undertaken and to note that -- five days after the European summit at which a resolution stipulated there would be no more missions to Iraq -- the Brandt mission was announced," said a government statement.
The Belgian foreign minister, Mark Eyskens, complained that "Saddam is creating this royal court of all sorts of Western pilgrims who visit him to obtain the release of hostages."
White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said that officials such as Mr. Brandt "walk a very fine line between trying to help their countrymen and being used by Saddam Hussein for inhuman treatment of the hostage families and the hostages themselves."
Coming just a few months after the German news media denounced Austrian President Kurt Waldheim's mission to Baghdad as the visit of "one pariah to another," the support for Mr. Brandt's trip also signals a growing impatience here with a conflict in which Germans do not feel directly involved, since their constitution forbids military involvement outside the NATO area of operations.
"Everybody's breaking the united front. The thing is dragging on and on," said Anne-Marie Le Gloannec, a specialist on Germany at the National Foundation of Political Science in Paris.