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Saturday, June 03, 2000, updated at 16:55(GMT+8)

US President Clinton Urges "Open-door" Partnership with Russia

US President Bill Clinton called on Europe Friday to pursue an "open-door" policy in building a democratic partnership with Russia amid renewed criticism of US plans to develop a unilateral missile shield.

"No doors can be sealed shut to Russia, not NATO's, not the EU's," Clinton said in Aachen where he received the Charlemagne Prize for his work on behalf of European unity.

Ahead of a weekend summit meeting in Moscow with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Clinton said in Aachen of Germany that the alternative to opening up to Russia "would be a future of harmful competition between Russia and the West and the end of our vision of an undivided continent."

"We must work to build a partnership with Russia that encourages stability, democracy and constructive partnership with the West," he added, wearing the yellow strap of a Charlemagne prize around his neck.

In his speech he did not directly mention the planned US national missile defence (NMD), which is likely to be a source of disagreement at the Moscow summit, although he did say^However, for the second straight day, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder reminded the US president of the depth of Europe's concerns about the NMD project, which Washington says is needed to parry possible attacks by rogue states like North Korea.

"This is a question that could have impact way beyond the United States of America and it is in the interests of the Atlantic Alliance to deal with this in a spirit of partnership," Schroeder told the audience gathered to honor Clinton at the Charlemagne Prize ceremony.

Schroeder said he counted on Clinton to take into account "relative security and disarmament aspects in particular" in making a decision about whether to develop the anti-missile shield.

He said the United States should be careful of the consequences of anti-missile development on "other important states as well as possible consequences for the Atlantic Alliance."

Schroeder had already on Thursday blasted the NMD project to set up a statellite-guided missile shield over the United States to knock out incoming warheads.

"Everything must be done to prevent a resumption of the arms race," Schroeder said in Berlin after a two-hour meeting with Clinton.

It is likely the issue will dog Clinton when he arrives Saturday at the next stop on his European tour, Moscow, where he will have his first face-to-face meeting with newly installed Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Russia strongly opposes the NMD plan, which will require changes to the anti-ballistic missile (ABM) treaty that Washington signed with the former Soviet Union in 1972.

That point of view is even shared by senior US intelligence officers, according to recent US newspaper reports, who see a risk the NMD system might set off a nuclear arms race between China, India and Pakistan.

The first US president to receive the Charlemagne prize, which is given for contributions to European unity, Clinton pointed to integrating Russia and the war-torn Balkans into Europe as the main tasks for the future.

He told the audience of 2,000 people, including Czech President Vaclav Havel, that "although Russia's transformation is incomplete there is clearly reason for hope," especially when one looks at "Russia's remarkable journey over the last few years from dictatorship to democracy."

Clinton said "because the stakes are so high, we must do everything we can" to bring Russia into the western community of nations.

He added that "the rare distinction" of his receiving the Charlemagne Prize was "a tribute to the role the American people have played in promoting peace, freedom and security in Europe for the last 50 years."

He then painted a picture of a Europe that was united and peaceful after a 20th century in which it showed "the world humanity at its best and at its worst."

NATO-led military actions in Bosnia and Kosovo had strengthened transatlantic ties, Clinton said.

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US President Bill Clinton called on Europe Friday to pursue an "open-door" policy in building a democratic partnership with Russia amid renewed criticism of US plans to develop a unilateral missile shield.

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