Ukraine-Russia Arms Deal Puts Kiev on Clinton Agenda

RUSSIA and Ukraine have struck an agreement in principle on the future of Ukraine's nuclear weapons, Russian President Boris Yeltsin's press office announced on Monday.

Details of the accord were not immediately available. But Russia invited Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk to a summit meeting on Jan. 14 with Yeltsin and President Clinton, in Moscow.

The American leader is also now tentatively scheduled to make a brief stopover in Kiev on Jan. 12. The statement from Yeltsin's press office said Clinton might stop over briefly at Kiev's Borispol airport on the way to Moscow Wed-nesday.

In the past, Clinton has said he would see Kravchuk only if Ukraine agreed to live up to its past promise to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and dismantle its nuclear arsenal.

A settlement of the dispute over Ukraine's warheads would be a bit of good geopolitical news at the beginning of President Clinton's important swing through Europe this week.

Kiev's reluctance to dismantle the SS-19 and SS-24 long-range missiles it inherited from the arsenal of the old Soviet Union was exacerbating historic tensions with Moscow and making many other ex-Soviet republics nervous. More important in the US view was the fact that Ukraine's foot-dragging was threatening to stop implementation of the START series of nuclear arms treaties between the US and Soviet successor states.

In return for giving up one of its few valuable assets, Ukraine has been asking for security guarantees from both the US and Moscow. Hard-line Ukrainian legislators have also demanded compensation for the nuclear arsenal, with some calling for as much as $2.5 billion in restitution.

Not all US analysts think that urging Ukraine to give up its nuclear weapons is a good idea. In the eyes of some, a nuclear arsenal controlled by Kiev might actually help maintain stability in an historically unstable part of the world.

But the Clinton administration has been strongly urging the Ukraine government to dismantle.

Before starting on his European swing, the US President had pointedly omitted Kiev from his itinerary, even while including a stopover in nearby Belarus.

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