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Arms Treaty Hinges on Ukraine

Pressured by nationalists, officials lay out new conditions for ratifying nuclear arms pact

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RUSSIA and the United States may have reached an historic START II treaty, but it is a mere scrap of paper without the assent of Ukraine.

Ukraine's foot-dragging on carrying out its pledge to get rid of nuclear arms inherited from the Soviet Union now imperils the entire arms control process. Ukrainian officials continue to raise new conditions for ratifying the START I agreement, without which the follow-up arms deal cannot take effect.

The former Soviet Army's strategic nuclear weapons are located in four former republics: Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan. Russia has long insisted that it should be the sole inheritor of the Soviet Union's status as a nuclear-weapons power.

Under a special provision added to START I this past year, Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan agreed to renounce their weapons, join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty as nonnuclear states, and transfer their weapons to Russia to be dismantled. In a legally binding letter, the three states committed to eliminate all the strategic nuclear weapons on their soil within the seven-year period of the START I treaty. So far, only Russia and Kazakhstan have ratified START I.

Both in public statements and in a recent phone conversation with US President Bush, Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk has reiterated his intention to ratify the treaty. But powerful nationalist forces in the Ukrainian parliament and government have objected, expressing concern about a future in which only Russia will possess nuclear arms. Some have even advocated keeping Ukraine's nuclear arsenal.

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