Ukrainian president backs off demands on U.S., renews support for arms pact

May 07, 1992|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- Basking in a White House embrace, Ukrainian President Leonid M. Kravchuk yesterday renewed his pledge to abandon nuclear weapons and adhere to a major arms control deal. The move greatly eased a potential new threat to U.S. security posed by the breakup of the Soviet Union.

Mr. Kravchuk promised to implement the Strategic Arms ReductionTreaty (START) signed last year by the United States and Soviet Union, removing both a big hurdle in its ratification and a possible problem in getting Congress to back a Russian aid package.

With the agreement, Mr. Kravchuk implicitly backed off a demand for strong U.S. security guarantees against Russia, settling for President Bush's verbal statement that Ukraine's security is important.

Secretary of State James A. Baker III must now get Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan to sign onto the terms for implementing the strategic arms accord and may have to visit the three nations to lock in their com

mitments.

Kazakhstan's president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, who prides himself on his bargaining skills, reportedly wants security guarantees from the United States, Russia and China before surrendering his country's nuclear weapons. He is to visit the United States later this month.

Announcement of the U.S.-Ukraine agreement came as President Bush lavished attention on Mr. Kravchuk to make up for what Ukrainians saw as U.S. neglect, sharing an East Room press conference with him and later taking him for a quick visit to Camp David.

In addition, the two presidents signed a trade agreement according Ukraine most-favored-nation status, launched a Peace Corps program and promised a variety of technical assistance. But U.S. officials don't think Ukraine qualifies for major economic aid because it is lagging on free-market reforms.

Mr. Bush said the two agreed "that the United States and Ukraine should be not just friends, but partners."

No actual security guarantees were extended, a Bush administration official said, and none is likely to be offered to Kazakhstan either.

Speaking to reporters before the visit, a senior administration official said that "the best guarantee of [Ukraine's] security is rapid and close integration into Western institutions, close relations with Western countries, a successful and rapid economic reform, firm democratic reforms, and finally a good relationship with Russia."

Such assurances evidently didn't satisfy Mr. Kravchuk, even though he accepted START. He told the press conference that "some of our neighbors, especially the great neighbors such as Russia, have political forces which would like to make territorial claims as to Ukraine, and that certainly worries us."

He called on the "international community to . . . provide some guarantees for the national security of Ukraine in case there is a possible threat."

Under terms of START, many of Ukraine's nuclear missiles will be dismantled within seven years after the treaty takes effect. Ukraine also has 46 missiles not covered by the treaty. It promised last December to get rid of all its nuclear weapons by 1994, but officials have since waivered on that pledge.

Administration officials had worried that if Ukraine hadn't

cooperated on START, members of Congress would try to work arms-control language into the Russian aid package.

Even without that added complication, getting the package through this year will be tough, as evidenced by sharp criticism yesterday from two key senators.

Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, who chairs the foreign aid appropriations panel, called the measure a "complex two-year aid package lumped together without theme, theory or consistency."

The panel's Republican leader, Robert Kasten of Wisconsin, added, "This legislation is in deep trouble."

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