Ukraine 'has to give up nuclear arms': Christopher says no to Russian and East European membership of Nato

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UKRAINE risks international isolation if it does not resolve the question of its nuclear arms, the United States Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, told the Independent yesterday.

Speaking after a meeting of Nato foreign ministers, Mr Christopher held out the possibility of new relations between Nato and Central and Eastern Europe, including Russia. But membership of the alliance was not currently in prospect, he added.

'There shouldn't be any illusions in Ukraine that they can retain a nuclear capability and expect the Western community to give them the benefits of economic assistance,' Mr Christopher said. 'They will not have the benefit of full participation in the world economy unless they live up to their obligations.'

This meant ratifiying the Start nuclear-arms treaty, signing the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT) and getting rid of its nuclear weapons, he added.

Ukraine wrote to Manfred Worner, Nato's Secretary-General, asking for special security guarantees if it disarmed. But this was rejected, said a senior British official. 'There's no way we can give security guarantees of a type that we can't offer to anybody else,' he said.

The official said that Ukraine would also find itself ruled out of planned new links between Eastern Europe and Nato if it did not act. 'I think that would depend on them coming clean on the NPT,' he said.

Partnerships for Peace is a new framework, proposed by the US, for extending Nato's ties eastwards. There will be military and political agreements between former Warsaw pact countries and some neutral countries on the one hand, and the alliance on the other. Central and Eastern Europe should welcome these, Mr Christopher said. 'They'll have better options under the Partnership for Peace terms than under any other mechanism,' he said.

This would include the right to special consultations. 'We in the US contemplate all the partners would be entitled to consultation if they feel threatened by outside forces,' he said. There is disagreement on this point within the alliance, with some member states feeling this would bring former adversaries too close for comfort.

Earlier the Secretary of State suggested to other Nato foreign ministers that former Warsaw Pact countries, including Russia, should have representation in Nato headquarters and at its military nerve-centre. But membership of Nato is not on the agenda, Mr Christopher told the Independent.

He admitted that Central and Eastern European countries might well be upset by this.

'There may be a momentary disappointment if they had high expectations of imminent expansion,' he said. But they should realise that 'membership of Nato is a very serious business. It's not a social club. It's a major security commitment'.

Mr Worner said yesterday that the alliance would be opened to new members at a special summit in January, but without any specification of candidates, timetable or criteria. Expansion has been hampered partly by Russian fears of its implications.

Andrew Marr, page 21

Rome's responsibility, page 21