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Ukraine: President Kuchma Starts Busy Visit To U.S.

Washington, 15 May 1997 (RFE/RL) - Ukraine's President Leonid Kuchma has an action-packed day in Washington today, starting with an early breakfast with the head of the IMF and ending with a late night award ceremony supper by a private American foundation.

Kuchma is on an official working visit to the United States, focusing on Friday's first meeting of the U.S.-Ukraine Binational Commission he co-chairs with U.S. Vice President Al Gore.

Gore's National Security Advisor, Leon Fuerth, says the inaugural meeting of the commission underscores the U.S. view that Ukraine's independence and prosperity are "very closely related to the stability and peace of Europe."

"It's very important that these things succeed," Fuerth told RFE/RL in Washington in advance of the visit, not just in human terms but because what happens in Ukraine "has very wide ranging consequences" for the world.

Fuerth says the commission meeting will focus first on security issues and then have a second session on economic and trade matters. He says security questions are probably the easiest to deal with because, among other things, a compact between Ukraine and NATO -- similar to but separate from the Russian agreement -- is expected to "fall into place" soon.

However, assisting Ukraine with continued economic reform, cleaning up corruption, and drawing investment are the "place we have the most work to do," says Fuerth.

American business leaders and investors, who are holding a roundtable discussion late today with Kuchma, will tell the Ukrainian leader that Kyiv must start dealing with problems ranging from corruption to lack of transparency in government operations and do it quickly if Ukraine hopes to continue to draw western investment.

A number of major U.S. firms, such as Motorola corporation, have pulled their investments out of Ukraine and business officials warn this trickle could turn into a torrent unless real market reforms are instituted quickly.

Fuerth says that in the end it will be the people of Ukraine who must deal with the problems, but that Kuchma has started a "very important plan" for fighting corruption and starting a number of major reforms.

What the U.S. hopes to do in the commission meeting, says Fuerth, is to establish liaison arrangements with American law enforcement agencies, but more importantly "work with President Kuchma as he tries to simplify government procedures, make them more transparent, make them less of an obstacle course and make them attractive to foreign investment."

Fuerth says as Ukraine implements more reforms, it will find they eliminate certain types of corruption. It also brings in "the kind of investment that makes life better for people and that has an impact as well," he says.

In an effort to defuse growing criticism of Ukraine in the U.S. Congress, where some are demanding a reduction in American aid, Kuchma will meet with the powerful speaker of the House, Congressman Newt Gingrich (R-Georgia), as well as leaders of key foreign affairs committees in both the House and Senate.

Fuerth says the Clinton administration opposes cutting aid to Ukraine, believing it would only hurt the government's reform efforts "at a critical moment."

On top of his late afternoon business roundtable, Kuchma will have a working breakfast with IMF Managing Director Michel Camdessus and an afternoon talk with World Bank President James Wolfensohn. Both institutions have loan packages ready for Ukraine, but are awaiting full implementation of certain reforms, including passage of the new budget.

On Friday, in addition to a working luncheon with cabinet level officials, Kuchma will meet with U.S. President Bill Clinton.

Kuchma is scheduled to fly back to Ukraine Friday night.