London (CNSNews.com) - Just days before his first official summit with Vladimir Putin, President Clinton learned from European leaders that the Russian president remains steadfastly opposed to a proposed American national missile defense system.
Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Guterres told Clinton in Lisbon that Putin would not budge on the matter. Guterres held talks with Putin Monday in Moscow.
The Portuguese premier said Putin had addressed the NMD issue, the Chechnya war, and other issues "in a very frank and open manner."
Clinton, who began a week-long European tour Tuesday, will go to Moscow at the weekend for his first meeting with Russia's recently-inaugurated president.
Building and deploying a NMD system would necessitate amendments to the bilateral 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty. The U.S. wants the missile shield as a way of defending its territory against the possibility of missiles fired by rogue states such as North Korea or Iran.
But critics, led by Russia and China, insist the plan would restart the nuclear arms race by undermining the basic principles of mutual deterrence.
Clinton will make a decision before the November elections over whether or not to give the go-ahead for NMD.
National Security Advisor Sandy Berger, who is accompanying Clinton, said before the tour began that he did not expect agreement to be reached on NMD during the Moscow talks.
"I think it's a good opportunity for us to explain our view of the threat, and President Putin to talk about his concerns and see whether we can understand each other better," Berger told CNN on Sunday.
On Wednesday Clinton, Berger, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky are holding talks near Lisbon with EU leaders, including Guterres and European Commission President Romano Prodi.
Portugal currently holds the rotating EU presidency.
While the discussions are expected to focus on US-EU trade disputes, the NMD proposal, which also has critics in Europe, could be discussed. Clinton may also raise Washington's concerns about plans for an EU security force, which some critics fear could undermine NATO's role as the primary instrument of Western defense.
Long-simmering disputes between the U.S. and EU over trade have threatened to boil over in recent days.
The world's most important and lucrative trading relationship is overshadowed by mutual accusations and sanction threats.
The U.S. is unhappy with an EU ban on imports of hormone-treated American beef and EU restrictions on the importation of bananas from American producers.
Washington is also unhappy with European government assistance for Airbus - Boeing's biggest rival - and over EU aircraft noise level rules, which allegedly discriminate against American manufacturers.
For its part, the EU accuses the U.S. of breaking World Trade Organization regulations by offering tax breaks to 6,000 American exporters, including giants like Boeing and Microsoft. The EU remains deeply suspicious of genetically-modified foodstuffs.
Barshefsky and her EU counterpart Pascal Lamy will tussle with these and other issues. Reports from Lisbon said officials on both sides were not optimistic that the disputes would be resolved in the talks.
During Wednesday's summit, a huge joint program to help fight diseases such as Aids and tuberculosis in developing countries is also due to be announced.
Apart from a possible visit to Ireland later this year, this week's tour is expected to be Clinton's last visit to Europe during his presidency.
After meetings in Lisbon, with the EU and then also with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak early Thursday, the American leader will travel to Berlin for informal meetings with more than 15 leaders of the centrist "Third Way" persuasion.
Friday, he is scheduled to hold a private meeting with former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, who was heavily implicated last year in a campaign funding scandal. Also while in Germany, Clinton will be awarded the International Charlemagne Prize for his contributions to world peace and European unity.
Saturday and Sunday Clinton will be in Moscow. Apart from talks with Putin, he plans to make a courtesy call to former President Boris Yeltsin. A visit to the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, on Monday will wrap up the seven-day visit.