Kuchma, Lukashenko in NATO Spat

KIEV -- Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma will attend this week's NATO summit in Prague, his spokeswoman said Saturday, while NATO reiterated that Kuchma would not be welcome.

The Belarussian Foreign Ministry, meanwhile, denounced a decision by the Czech authorities to deny a visa to President Alexander Lukashenko to attend the summit but gave no hint of any retaliatory action.

The disputes have cast a shadow over the Nov. 21-22 summit, which is intended to celebrate the alliance's expansion.

"Kuchma will go," spokeswoman Olena Hromnytska said Saturday by telephone from Moscow, where Kuchma was meeting with President Vladimir Putin.

Hromnytska said Kuchma had been invited to attend a 46-nation meeting of countries that have partnership agreements with NATO.

But a spokesman at NATO headquarters in Brussels said neither Kuchma nor any other leader had been sent a personal invitation. Ukraine, like all other nations involved, had been told of the date and time of the meeting during the NATO summit.

"Our position has not changed. We still think it would be very unwise for President Kuchma to come to Prague. No invitation has been sent to him personally to come to Prague," NATO spokesman Yves Brodeur said.

A meeting of Ukraine's Security Council earlier Saturday voted in favor of Kuchma attending a session of NATO's 46-member Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council.

Council head Evhen Marchuk told Interfax that Foreign Minister Anatoly Zlenko would represent Ukraine in bilateral talks with the alliance, adding that the council had voted to send both Zlenko and Kuchma to Prague.

NATO warned Kuchma would not be welcome at the meeting after Washington said it believed he had approved the sale of an early warning system to Iraq. Kuchma has denied the charges.

His decision to travel came a day after Lukashenko was denied a visa from the Czech Republic because of alleged human rights abuses in Belarus.

The Belarussian Foreign Ministry described the ruling as an "unprecedented decision ... and yet another measure of open pressure on Belarus that exposes the lack of independence of the Czech Republic's foreign policy."

It said the failure to issue a visa violated the Partnership Council's principle of each member being able to choose how it wished to be represented.

Lukashenko has not yet commented on the ruling.

Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov criticized the Czech decision. "We believe that refusing someone a visa or attempting to isolate someone is a remnant of earlier times, of the Cold War period," he told Rossia television. "We do not agree with or support such an approach."