Ukraine leaders avoid setting disarmament timetable



KIEV, Ukraine (AP)—Ukraine’s President Leonid Kravchuk and leaders of parliament avoided setting a timetable for nuclear disarmament Monday despite urgent appeals from Secretary of State Warren Christopher for prompt compliance with past pledges.

Kravchuk promised to put the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty before the parliament for ratification in November. But he did not promise approval even after Christopher offered at least $330 million in U.S. economic assistance this fiscal year.

‘‘That’s for the parliament to decide,’‘ Kravchuk said, while his foreign minister, Anatoly M. Zlenko told reporters: ‘‘We don’t have relevant funds for destroying nuclear weapons.’‘

Leaders of Rada, Ukraine’s parliament, also cited instability in Russia as a reason not to dismantle all their nuclear warheads or to become a non-nuclear nation right away.

In Washington, President Clinton said, ‘‘I understand that position, but I think that it is not justified because we’re making progress with Russia, too, in complying with these agreements.’‘

‘‘There is no evidence that any of the developments which they might conceive in their worst fears would lead to an unwillingness to cooperate in the nuclear regime,’‘ Clinton said at a news conference.

In Kiev, Christopher said he had told Zlenko the United States and the other nuclear powers would consider assuring Ukraine it would not be attacked if it surrendered the weapons.

Zlenko publicly emphasized economic problems. He said his country would need $2.8 billion to dismantle and destroy its 170 long-range nuclear missiles with their 1,240 warheads.

‘‘Our economy is in a very critical state,’‘ Zlenko said. ‘‘We have been raising, are raising and will keep raising questions concerning the relevant assistance.’‘

Christopher, describing daylong meetings with Kravchuk, Zlenko and leaders of parliament as very productive, said Kravchuk had reaffirmed Ukraine’s commitment to the START treaty and to ‘‘a non-nuclear future.’‘

However, Christopher said he did not know when parliament would take up the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which includes a pledge not to keep, acquire or deal in nuclear weapons.

And while START will be taken up by the parliament, senior U.S. officials said they did not know when Ukraine would get rid of missiles as required by the pact.

Meanwhile, Christopher and Zlenko signed an agreement to improve safety conditions at the Chernobyl nuclear reactor and four others elsewhere in the country.

In 1986, in the world’s worst nuclear disaster, the reactor exploded. At least 32 people were reported killed, and scientists say thousands more may have died from radiation exposure.

Desperate for energy, Ukraine’s parliament voted last week to keep Chernobyl and other nuclear power plants open and to lift a moratorium on building new plants.

A second accord, signed by the United States, Ukraine, Sweden and Canada, will establish a science center in Kiev to help find projects to engage nuclear scientists and engineers who lost their jobs with the end of the Cold War.

But Russia still has nuclear weapons, and Ukraine is acutely aware of it.

Dmytro Pavlychko, head of the parliament’s foreign relations committee, said Christopher was told ‘‘we needed a U.S. security guarantee.’‘

That, he said, would prompt Ukraine to dismantle all of its 130 SS-19 missiles with 780 warheads under START.

Even then, he said in an interview, ‘‘we would keep our 46 SS-24s, for seven years, 10 years or 20 years.’‘

Valentyn Lemish, chairman of the defense committee, nodded his head in agreement, and Stepan Khmara, head of the Ukrainian Conservative Republican party, said in a separate interview: ‘‘I don’t see a possibility to guarantee our security if we do not have nuclear weapons, especially at a time when Russia pushes its imperialist policies.’‘

That viewpoint seemed to be on Clinton’s mind as he said in Washington that the Ukranians might see their nuclear weapons ‘‘as a counterweight to non-nuclear pressures they might feel in the future.’‘

Still, Clinton said, ‘‘We’ve been very clear from the beginning with Ukraine that we want to have a strong partnership with them but that we expect this work of reducing our nuclear arsenals and complying with all the relevant treaties to go forward.’‘

Ukraine, whose missiles and 40 nuclear-armed bombers make it the third largest nuclear power in the world, agreed in May 1992 to dismantle the weapons over seven years under the START treaty. Kravchuk also pledged last year that Ukraine would be a nuclear-free state by the end of the century.

But the parliament has refused to go along.

‘‘Ukraine cannot both ratify START and the NPT,’‘ Pavlychko said. We would be in one moment a non-nuclear nation. Events in Russia are developing in a very dangerous direction.’‘

Kravchuk told Christopher, according to a U.S. official: ‘‘I have no doubt at all about START. I have doubts as to NPT, but if we continue to work on it, we can do it.’‘

‘‘Why this demand for Ukraine to get rid of its nuclear weapons and no one pushes Russia?’‘ Khmara asked. ‘‘Russia will fall apart definitely.’‘

Christopher, according to a transcript obtained by Ukrainian sources, was sympathetic.

However, he added: ‘‘Retention of nuclear weapons would diminish rather than enhance your security. It would impede, if not imperil, the process of integration into the world community of democratic nations that is the only real guarantee of Ukraine’s security.’‘