President-elect George Bush, refreshed by four days of sun and surf in Florida, returned to the nation's capital Tuesday for a meeting with West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl.

"Off to work," Bush said as he departed on Air Force Two from Palm Beach International Airport. After landing at Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington, he was flown by helicopter to his residence.Bush's planned visit later Tuesday with Kohl marked his first meeting with a foreign head of government since he was elected president last Tuesday. Vice President-elect Dan Quayle and Jim Baker, whom Bush has said he will nominate as secretary of state, also were to participate in the meeting.

Bush was to meet Wednesday with British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

The White House announced Tuesday that Bush and President Reagan would meet with Mikhail S. Gorbachev next month when the Soviet leader visits the United States to address the United Nations.

As speculation and maneuvering for jobs percolated in Washington, Bush indicated to reporters Monday that he likely will be announcing appointments to his Cabinet or other administration posts this week.

On the eve of his departure for Washington, Bush was joined at a beachfront vacation home for dinner by New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu, a top campaign adviser mentioned as a candidate for White House chief of staff.

But Bush laughingly told reporters not to "read too much into" the visit by Sununu, who was the only political associate to see Bush on vacation and who flew back to Washington with Bush.

Asked by reporters about his prospects for the chief of staff job, Sununu said, "I'm still governor." Pressed further, he said, "I'll do whatever he needs." He said he and Bush "discussed things in general. . . . He will talk specifics in about a week or so."

Bush told reporters in a beachfront question-and-answer session that his meetings with Kohl and Thatcher would focus on "talking about where we go after I become president, but it should be viewed as a continuation of existing policy."

Bush also sought to reassure a nervous international financial community that the U.S. budget deficit will be a top priority at the start of his administration.

"It is a matter of great urgency . . . and I want to be in the forefront of trying to do something about it after I become president," he said.