Mr. Clinton praised Kohl, saying "the world is in your debt" for uniting Germany and advancing the cause of freedom.
Kohl welcomed Mr. Clinton as "my friend" and said he hoped they would continue their close contact. Europe's longest serving leader, currently trails Social Democrat Gerhard Schroeder in upcoming German elections.
Visiting Germany for the 50th anniversary of the Berlin Airlift, Mr. Clinton was greeted with full military pomp at Sans Souci Palace, the former summer home of Frederick the Great, who signed the first friendship treaty with the new United States in the early 1780s.
Kohl said it was fitting that they met at a site "where our American friends will have a permanent right of residence."
Their talks centered on India's nuclear tests, Bosnia, Kosovo, and other foreign policy matters.
Mr. Clinton said that Europe has moved farther than anyone could have imagined toward an integrated commitment to democracy, open markets, and security alliances.
Turning to Kohl, Mr. Clinton said, "I believe that Europe has come so far in so little time in no small measure because of your leadership, for German unification, for European monetary union, for freedom and free markets, and an undivided, democratic Europe at peace.
"The world is in your debt and America is pleased about the prospects for our common future because of what has happened," Mr. Clinton said.
Symbolic of the ties that he sought to strengthen, Mr. Clinton flew early this morning into Tegel airport, built during the 1948-49 Soviet blockade expressly for the U.S. airlift of supplies to besieged Berliners.
Mr. Clinton's trip comes just weeks after the Senate approved the first wave of NATO expansion and the European Union ratified plans for a single currency.
Mr. Clinton also was to meet with Schroeder, who hopes to unseat Kohl in this fall's parliamentary elections. Schroeder has been compared to Mr. Clinton for his efforts to move his traditionally leftist party to the center to attract middle-of-the-road voters.
On Thursday, Mr. Clinton will speak at Tempelhof airport with airlift veterans and christen an Air Force DC-7 as the "Spirit of the City of Berlin."
He then goes to Eisenach, in former East Germany, to tour a car factory bought after German unification by Opel, the German operating unit of General Motors Corp. John C. Kornblum, U.S. ambassador to Germany, said Mr. Clinton wanted to stress the importance of U.S. investment in the region, which is still struggling with high unemployment as a result of the wrenching conversion to capitalism.
Mr. Clinton also will visit the historic Wartburg Fortress, where Martin Luther hid in the early 16th cetury.
On Thursday, the president will depart Germany for Birmingham, England, for the annual summit of leaders from Britain, France, Italy, Germany, Japan, Canada, and the United States, plus Russia.