KIEV, Ukraine — Wooing a new president to comply with the nuclear disarmament agreement signed by his predecessor, Vice President Al Gore paid a six-hour call on Kiev on Tuesday, bearing promises of U.S. aid if Ukraine continues to dismantle its nuclear weapons.
Gore also gave newly elected President Leonid Kuchma an invitation from President Clinton to visit Washington in November.
The vice president reiterated U.S. promises to give Ukraine up to $700 million in aid this year to scrap its warheads and speed up economic reforms.
"A democratic, prosperous and independent Ukraine is in America's national interests," Gore said.
He was greeted with warm diplomatic smiles and hearty handshakes during the first high-level U.S. visit to Ukraine since Kuchma's July 19 inauguration.
But both Ukrainian and Western officials warned that Kuchma's pro-Russian tilt, together with a new Parliament dominated by Communist hard-liners, could translate into a chillier, more demanding attitude on Kiev's part with respect to disarmament.
"You can already feel the change," said a Westerner closely involved in disarmament. "They will demand performance, not promises."
Gore pressed Ukraine, which has lagged behind nearly all its neighbors in introducing market reforms, to speed up the process so that it could qualify for more than $4 billion in aid from the Group of Seven industrialized nations.
Gore said Ukraine is already the world's fourth-largest recipient of American aid.
Kuchma has complained in the past that the aid amounts to "beautiful words" but no hard cash. He accepted the invitation to Washington on Nov. 29 but made no public statements after his meeting with Gore in the ornate 18th-Century Mariinsky Palace.
Ukraine has removed the nuclear warheads from about 200 missiles and shipped the warheads to Russia in exchange for 100 tons of nuclear fuel, in keeping with the trilateral nuclear statement signed in January by the United States, Russia and Ukraine.
The United States paid Russia $60 million to complete the deal.
Gore praised Ukraine for its speedy fulfillment of its side of the agreement. Kuchma has criticized the United States for being slow in disbursing the disarmament aid.
"Does America keep its promises?" he asked a delegation from the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America days after his inauguration.
Tougher rhetoric could signal trouble in implementing the rest of the trilateral agreement. Aside from the initial warhead-for-fuel swap, the pact does not specify how Ukraine is to get rid of its remaining 1,400 nuclear warheads except to say they must be scrapped within seven years.
It now seems likely that Ukraine will insist on receiving the money faster and demand more of it.
Although Gore said that he did not discuss the subject with Kuchma, he stressed in remarks to journalists that Ukraine must join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty as a condition of the trilateral pact.
Kuchma has said that he prefers to wait until 1995, when the treaty comes up for a legal overhaul.
Perhaps more worrisome for Washington, however, is the possibility that Kuchma's pro-Russian rhetoric will find expression in policy, thus changing Moscow's attitude toward Ukraine's disarmament.
Konstantin Zatulin, a key Russian lawmaker, told a popular Ukrainian newspaper on Friday that Russia would no longer press Ukraine to disarm "if the two countries enter into a strategic partnership."
A nuclear, allied Ukraine would give Russia "another vote in the nuclear club," he said.