Ukraine Gets Whirlwind Clinton Visit

generic Jenna Morasca
President Bill Clinton wrapped up his European tour on Monday with a six-hour stop in Ukraine.

Mr. Clinton's lightning visit -- his third one to Ukraine as president -- culminated in a rousing address to tens of thousands of people gathered in a city square decked with huge American and Ukrainian flags.

During his stop in Ukraine's capital of Kiev, the president secured a deal to close the troubled Chernobyl nuclear power plant in mid-December and urged the former Soviet republic to forge closer ties with Europe.

The agreement to shut down Chernobyl, site of the world's worst civil nuclear disaster in 1986, was announced by Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma. It involved $78 million in fresh U.S. funds to help Ukraine shoulder the costs of ensuring safety.

"The Chernobyl nuclear reactor will be decommissioned on December 15 this year," Kuchma told reporters after the two leaders met in the ornate white and gilded splendor of the Mariinsky presidential palace.

"I am very proud and moved to be here today, this is World Environment Day, for this historic announcement by President Kuchma," Mr. Clinton said. "This is a hopeful moment, it is also a moment when we remember those who suffered as a result of the accident there."

Mr. Clinton said the United States would give Ukraine a further $2 million to improve safety at its four other nuclear plants.

The president's address in historic Mykhailivska Square was an inspirational call to Ukraine to continue on the path of independence and reform after three centuries of rule by Moscow.

"I have not lived what you have lived ... I cannot tell you how to build your future," Mr. Clinton told an emotionally-charged crowd against the backdrop of the sky-blue and golden-domed St. Michael Monastery.

"But I believe Ukraine has the best opportunity in a thousand years to achieve both freedom and prosperity."

He praised Kuchma and Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko for pursuing economic reforms, and urged the country to look west to Europe for political solidarity.

"We reject the idea that the eastern border of Europe is the western border of Ukraine. Of course, your future is your own choice. But we can and we will keep the door to the trans-Atlantic community of democracies open to Ukraine."

Also on Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed that his country create common anti-missile defenses with Europe and NATO.

Putin spoke at a news conference in Rome hours after his summit with Mr. Clinton in Moscow -- which left open the thorny question of amending a 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty.

"We know that many here in Europe and in the United States are worried about whether the 1972 accord will be kept. I share this worry," Putin said in Russian, speaking through a translator.

"Russia proposes setting up, together with Europe and NATO, a common missile system..."

Putin said such a system wold "avoid all problems of an imbalance of forces and ... 100 percent guarantee the safety of each individual European country with the support of our U.S. partners."

Mr. Clinton left Moscow for Ukraine after becoming the first U.S. president ever to address the Duma, Russia's legislature, an address which won applause although there were a few hecklers, according to CBS News White House Correspondent Bill Plante, who is traveling with the president.

AP Photo
President Clinton told
the Duma he has a
personal stake in
Russian goodwill.

President Clinton told Russian lawmakers that partnership despite differences is the right course for the U.S. and Russia. Mr. Clinton said that America and Russia are not destined to be adversaries again "but it is not guarantees that we will be allies."

Mr. Clinton emphasized that "on many issues that matter to our people, our interests coincide." He nonetheless laid out a laundry list of issues on which the two nations disagree, including U.S. missile defense plans and Russia's conflict in Chechnya.

The president also said one problem is that many Russians suspect "America does not wish you well." He said that's not so. "The United States wants a strong Russia," he said.

"The world we seek to bring into being can come only if America and Russia are on the same side of history," said Mr. Clinton, who wrapped up his Russian trip with a final call on Putin and a visit to his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin.

As Clinton finished, ultra-nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky shouted at other Duma members for applauding him.

"I told him in English, lift the blockade on Iraq, withdraw troops from Yugoslavia and do not intervene in Russian affairs," Zhirnovsky said afterward.

Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov said he thought Clinton would be "more honest" about the situation in Russia. "We are for dialogue," he said. "We understand that there can be no war in the modern world."

Boris Gryzlov, head of the pro-Kremlin Unity group, saw good and bad in the speech. "It was wrong to mention the conflict in Chechnya in connection with Yugoslavia," he said. "The conflict in Chechnya is an internal affair of Russia, and in Kosovo they committed aggression."

Mr. Clinton pulled off at least half of what he set out to do in his businesslike summit with Putin by signing a deal to get rid of nuclear weapons material, on both sides.

In talks that Putin called "candid, open and tough," the two men also agreed to take steps to keep existing weapons, from being accidentally fired.

CBS News White House Correspondent Mark Knoller reports that in an effort to prevent a retaliaory strike based on a false detection, the U.S. and Russia agreed to establish a joint Russian operation to share information on their nation's missile launches.

"This is terribly important," Mr. Clinton said in a news conference at the end of the Moscow summit. "It is the first permanent U.S.-Russian military cooperation ever."