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US Wants to Know More on Alleged Ukrainian Radar Sale to Iraq - 2002-11-05


US Bush administration is signaling displeasure with the level of Ukrainian cooperation with a U.S.-British team sent to Kiev to investigate an alleged sale of an advanced Ukrainian radar system to Iraq. The affair has already prompted a suspension of some U.S. aid to Ukraine.

The State Department has reiterated its contention that Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma personally approved the radar sale to Iraq, and U.S. officials say his government has failed thus far to provide enough information to determine whether the advanced equipment has actually been delivered to Baghdad.

The issue emerged as a major irritant in relations earlier this year, when a one-time Ukrainian presidential security guard provided U.S. officials with an audio tape in which President Kuchma is said to be overheard approving the sale of the Kolchuga radar to Iraq.

The Kolchuga is a hard-to-detect "passive" radar system, and its presence in Iraq would complicate the mission of U-S and British aircraft patrolling the so-called "no-fly-zones" in the northern and southern parts of the country.

Though President Kuchma has denied being involved, State Department Richard Boucher said Tuesday the United States stands by its authentication of the tape.

He said the U.S.-British team probing the sale left Kiev after posing additional questions to the Kuchma government, and he indicated its response to those questions will determine the future of bilateral relations and U.S. aid.

"It was a U.S.-United Kingdom experts team that went," said Mr. Boucher. "They completed their report. They've handed the report to the government of Ukraine today in Kiev and we've asked the government to answer some follow-up questions. So once we get that back, we'll be looking at their answers as well as the report itself and factor that into our policy review, in terms of our relationship and our future assistance and programs."

A senior official who spoke to reporters here said Ukraine's cooperation with the investigators was "mixed," and they were unable to answer the key question of whether Iraq has taken delivery of the radar.

He said the Bush administration would draw the "appropriate policy conclusions" once its sees what the answers to the follow-up questions will be.

The affair has already prompted the administration to suspend a $55-million-a-year aid program to Ukraine under the Freedom Support Act, which funds pro-democracy and economic reform efforts in former Soviet states.