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U.S., Ukraine near agreement on strategic arms pact Baker intensifying ratification efforts


WASHINGTON -- The United States is close to an agreement with Ukraine on implementing a strategic arms accord reached with the former Soviet Union, U.S. officials said.

A deal would mark a breakthrough toward ratification of the pact and assures a warm embrace for Ukrainian President Leonid M. Kravchuk on his visit here next week.

Secretary of State James A. Baker III has postponed sending the treaty, which slashes long-range nuclear weapons, to Capitol Hill for ratification until all four nuclear states of the former Soviet Union -- Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan -- agree to abide by its terms.

Arms control experts predict that Belarus will fall into line with Ukraine. The United States and Russia then will be able to successfully pressure Kazakhstan to follow suit, they say.

Mr. Baker has worked intensively in recent days, with calls to top officials of the republics, to pave the way for the treaty's ratification by the Senate this summer. Congressional officials say failure to meet this deadline could doom prospects of ratifying the pact this year.

U.S. officials say that the fate of the former republics' long-range stockpiles is the "core issue" in the United States' relations with them because the weapons could be fired at this country.

Mr. Kravchuk and the leaders of Belarus and Kazakhstan previously pledged that their republics would get rid of nuclear weapons and join the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty as a non-nuclear state.

Ukraine recently refused to commit itself to getting rid of its long-range weaponry, although it is returning its short-range, or tactical, weapons to Russia. The United States wants Ukraine to agree to a schedule for withdrawal of all its nu

clear weapons, and agree to the treaty's inspection terms in the meantime.

Instead, Ukraine was seen as trying to use its new-found status as a major nuclear power to extract concessions from Russia and the West.

In recent days, Mr. Kravchuk had demanded security guarantees from the West similar to those extended to members of NATO, guarantees the United States refused to provide.

The dispute threatened to overshadow Mr. Kravchuk's visit and undermine a planned U.S. display of friendship.

Without assurances of Ukrainian cooperation on nuclear weapons, "it would have been a very different kind of visit," a Bush administration official said.

But with the issue close to being resolved, plans are proceeding for a reception designed to overcome Ukrainians' belief that they were ignored in the days after the Soviet Union breakup while the United States concentrated on Russia.

"We will consciously go out of our way to make sure the substance isright and the symbols are right," a U.S. official said. The aim is to "create a foundation for a close relationship."

While unwilling to guarantee Ukraine's defense, the United States will launch new military-to-military ties and start a "very serious security dialogue," a U.S. official said.

Ukraine has lagged behind Russia on economic reforms so the United States won't be able to offer a currency-stabilization fund similar to the one planned for Russia, officials said.

But it will launch a program of technical assistance on banking, taxation, food distribution and conversion of defense industries to civilian uses. Mr. Kravchuk, who is seeking foreign investment, will be accompanied by Ukrainian business executives who will be hooked up with Americans. The United States also will dispatch Peace Corps volunteers to Ukraine.

The visit could have a political payoff for President Bush among the United States' Ukrainian-American voters.

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