London (CNSNews.com) - German leader Gerhard Schroeder warned President Clinton Friday that the introduction of a national anti-missile defense umbrella could undermine the global nuclear balance and affect the US-European alliance.
Speaking after Clinton was honored with a major award for peace in the historic city of Aachen, Schroeder said the U.S. should fully debate the proposed NMD system with its European allies.
"Of course, it is the sovereign right of our American allies to take those decisions they consider appropriate to ensure their security," he said, but added that because of possible side-effects "well beyond the USA," the matter needed to be treated "in a spirit of partnership."
Schroeder said the ramifications included those on "other important states" - probably a reference to Russia and China, which oppose the NMD plan - as well as potential "consequences for the cohesion of the Atlantic alliance."
According to reports, the German chancellor did not respond to Clinton's remarks made Wednesday, in which he said the U.S. would be prepared to share the missile-destroying technology "among civilized nations."
Clinton had told a news conference in Lisbon: "I have always said that I thought that if the United States had such technology, and if the purpose of the technology is to provide protection against irresponsible new nuclear powers and their possible alliances with terrorists and other groups, then every country that is part of a responsible international arms control and nonproliferation regime should have the benefit of this protection."
The offer was widely seen as an attempt to quell European suspicions about NMD, which the U.S. says is needed to safeguard America not from nuclear attack from Russia or China, but from the possibility of missiles fired by pariah states like North Korea or Iran.
Although Clinton has yet to receive a response from Europe on the sharing offer, Russian President Vladimir Putin unexpectedly took him up on it, telling NBC News Thursday that he planned to put the idea of a jointly-developed anti-missile umbrella to the American leader when the two meet in Moscow this weekend.
Russia, backed by China, has warned that NMD could upset the nuclear arms balance by undermining the basic principle of mutual deterrence. The proposed system would require amendment of the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty, signed between the U.S. and Soviet Union in 1972.
Clinton heard from Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Guterres in Lisbon earlier this week that Putin remained implacable in his opposition to NMD.
In a hint of the strategy he may adopt in the Moscow talks, Clinton said earlier: "We've done a lot of information-sharing already with the Russians. We have offered to do more and we would continue to."
The visiting Americans received another warning from Schroeder Friday, in the form of an interview published by the Berliner Zeitung newspaper.
"Neither economically nor politically can we afford a new round of the arms race," the paper quoted Schroeder as saying, before adding that he was optimistic the U.S. would take "its allies' interests" into account.
The world, and particularly Europe, needed to maintain a solid relationship with Russia and other major states, he said.
Schroeder said Thursday he had shared his concerns about NMD "in a very frank way" in talks with Clinton.
Clinton Friday became the first U.S. president to receive the prestigious Charlemagne Prize for services to world peace and European unity.
Only two other Americans - secretaries of state Henry Kissinger and George Marshall - have in the past been awarded the prize, whose other recipients since 1949 include British prime ministers Winston Churchill and Tony Blair.
At the award ceremony in Aachen, the capital of the Emperor Charlemagne in the 8th century, Schroeder praised Clinton for filling "the American Dream with new life."
"Your very personal service was that the United States did not lose interest in Europe after the collapse of the Iron Curtain," he said.
The U.S. had done for Eastern Europe over the past decade what it had done for Western Europe after World War II, Schroeder said in reference to the Marshall Plan to rebuild war-ravaged Europe, named after the former secretary of state.
Recalling President Kennedy's famous 1962 proclamation of solidarity with the people of divided Berlin - "Ich bin ein Berliner" - Schroeder said while Kennedy had "won the hears of every German with one unforgettable sentence," Clinton had through his commitment to the continent "become a European."
Some pacifist demonstrators protested against Clinton being honored with the award after spearheading NATO's 1999 bombing campaign in the Balkans.
A banner in a store window near the venue of the award ceremony read: "No awards for war."