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KOHL WORKS TO BOLSTER U.S. TIES

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German Chancellor Helmut Kohl met President Clinton at a popular Italian restaurant Monday during a two-day visit to trumpet the importance of firm U.S.-European relations.

Kohl and Clinton, known for their hearty appetites, met for lunch at Filomena's, known for its big servings, in the capital's trendy Georgetown quarter.The two leaders were expected to consider developments in Moscow since the January 10-11 NATO summit in Brussels, dominated by the retreat of reformers in the new Russian government.

They were also likely to discuss initiatives for ending the fighting in Bosnia. Washington has come under attack from France for failing to take a more active role in the conflict.

Before lunch, they met briefly at the White House, where Kohl was in a playful mood. Gesturing to microphone poles waved over them at a photograph session, he told Clinton, "In a few years they'll be following us to the bathroom."

German sources said Kohl, in a speech to U.S. state governors later in the day, would urge America to maintain its role as world leader.

Conceding that both both states face big domestic problems, Kohl also planned to express sympathy for Clinton's decision to focus on internal issues in his first year as president, aware that the world needed a strong America.

Clinton, the newcomer on the international scene, has publicly acknowledged Kohl as a senior statesman. He recognizes Germany's key role in Europe while accepting the European Union as the framework within which Bonn wants to exercise its greater influence.

Kohl has praised Clinton's leadership skills and marveled at how cooperative his approach to Europe has been.

The president's January trip to both West and East Europe calmed most of the worries, but policymakers are still stressing how important they feel continued links are.

Kohl, who faces a tough general election battle later this year, could be boosted at home by his highly visible contact with Clinton, diplomatic sources said.

On Sunday, Kohl presented his country's highest honor, the Grand Cross of the Order of Merit, to former President George Bush and ex-Secretary of State James Baker for their role in demolishing the Berlin Wall and reunifying Germany.

At a ceremony at the German Embassy, Kohl said, "We owe them a debt of gratitude and it was a piece of luck that George Bush was president at this time."