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Ukraine: Pushing For Success With Kuchma-Gore Commission

Washington, 16 May 1997 (RFE/RL) - Ukrainian and American officials have been determined that today's first meeting of the U.S.-Ukraine Binational Commission be a major success.

With President Leonid Kuchma and Vice President Al Gore as co-chairman, lower level officials from both sides have, regularly over the past 11 months and feverishly over the last few days, been working on scores of the "nuts and bolts" issues they hope to have resolved at the end of the day.

One senior U.S. official predicted that the commission is "going to reach agreement on a number of important things and we're going to reach clarity about plans of action and performance on another group of key issues." However, he told reporters Thursday, so much was still being worked out that it was too early even then to say what will be announced at the end of the meeting late today.

"This process keeps going until its over," he added, "so whatever we have ready to announce at the end, we'll announce."

The plenary sessions of the commission will be split, one focusing on security issues and another dealing with economic and trade matters.

In the middle of it all, Kuchma and Gore are scheduled to break away for a private meeting with U.S. President Bill Clinton in the Oval office of the White House.

Presidential spokesman Michael McCurry says Clinton expects to review with Kuchma the just-concluded NATO compact with Russia, especially because a similar agreement is being worked out with Ukraine. Kuchma has welcomed the Russian agreement.

McCurry said the two presidents will also explore western concerns about the environment and nuclear safety stemming from the Chornobyl disaster. He said the issue will be on the agenda of the Denver summit of the G-7 plus Russia later this summer.

Kuchma and Clinton will also talk about general economic and trade liberalization issues, according to the White House spokesman.

The hope for major accomplishment in the so-called Kuchma-Gore Commission has been heightened by a number of vocal members of the U.S. Congress who have been calling for a significant reduction in American aid to Kyiv because of serious problems with corruption and lack of government support for foreign business and investment.

Kuchma spent a major part of Thursday meeting with a host of congressional leaders and committee chairmen, attempting to head-off any further reductions in aid just as Kuchma's government is launching deep economic and structural reforms and anti-corruption plans that have been demanded for some time.

Ukrainian officials say they believe Kuchma was successful in defusing much of the discontent, but acknowledge only time will tell.

A senior American official says Kuchma is dealing directly with the major business concern of corruption, and that the Clinton administration is working on a number of fronts to help the effort. Most importantly, says the official, if they make the government efficient they also "remove the places in which corruption establishes itself and that's one of the most important things we can do in working with the Ukrainian government on systematic reforms."

Ukrainian Finance Minister Ihor Mityukov said Kyiv has been working hard to implement the reforms even as it keeps to inflation, deficit, and other targets agreed with the International Monetary Fund. He said that in a breakfast meeting with IMF Managing Director Michel Camdessus Thursday, they asked if there was any way to speed up the process.

The IMF called the meeting with Kuchma "very useful" and said Camdessus was "encouraged by the determination of Ukrainian authorities to move ahead." A fund spokeswoman reiterated that the fund is "ready to move" on a pending three-year loan once "necessary measures" -- such as the budget and tax legislation -- are implemented. The loan will total between $2.5 billion and $3 billion when approved.