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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kuchma Vows to Sign Nuclear Pact

KIEV -- President Leonid Kuchma pledged in an interview published Friday to eliminate Ukraine's main dispute with the West by winning approval for a pact to rid the country of nuclear weapons for good.

Kuchma, who had previously been ambiguous on joining the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, told the daily Moloda Ukraina he would present the pact to parliament for approval in October. He is due to visit Washington in November.

"A single problem remains between us and the United States -- the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. It must be signed," he told the daily.

"I will address the parliament with a proposal some time in October to complete this process. I think parliament will support me. Then we'll see whether the West again will present conditions on aid to Ukraine."

After more than a year of off-and-on debate, Ukraine's parliament in February ratified the START-I disarmament treaty, agreeing to give up for destruction more than 1,600 former Soviet strategic warheads.

But it held back from joining the treaty, which some Western countries suggest is a key factor for aid to the former Soviet republic.

During the election campaign culminating in his victory last month, Kuchma was skeptical of Western assistance and accused the West of imposing unacceptable conditions. He said Ukraine should weigh its options before backing the pact.

In his interview, Kuchma said that Ukraine was receiving Russian fuel for its nuclear power stations as part of $1 billion in compensation promised under an accord signed by the leaders of Ukraine, Russia and the United States.

Disarmament aid from the United States was slower in coming, he said, with only $6 million received of a promised $350 million.

"We have to intensify our diplomatic activity, act like a normal negotiating partner, defend our interests and call a spade a spade," he was quoted as saying.

"Let the world know that Ukraine is not locked in an embrace with nuclear arms, intent on not letting them go."

Kuchma is due to meet U.S. President Bill Clinton in the White House on Nov. 29, a meeting arranged during a visit to Kiev this month by Vice President Al Gore.

Gore, the first major Western figure to visit Ukraine after Kuchma's election, urged Ukraine to proceed quickly with joining the treaty.

He said the United States wanted to build on the improvements in its relations with Kiev, which had been strained by its earlier sluggish approach to disarmament.

In his interview, Kuchma restated campaign pledges to build closer ties with Russia and other former Soviet republics. He said his priority would be to move forward rapidly with economic reforms, but to regulate them to limit the negative impact on impoverished Ukrainians.

"I believe countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States are our priority. We depend a great deal on Russia in economic terms and must take account of this," he said.

"But we must get our own economy on its feet so that this dependence does not reduce us to a colony."