THREE CIS PRESIDENTS SUPPORT BALTIC-BLACK SEA SUMMIT PROPOSAL. At meetings in Strasbourg on 10-11 October on the sidelines of the Council of Europe summit, Eduard Shevardnadze (Georgia), Heidar Aliev (Azerbaijan), and Petru Lucinschi (Moldova) affirmed their support for Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma's proposal to convene a summit of Baltic and Black Sea leaders in Crimea in 1999. Kuchma made the proposal in Vilnius in early September at a meeting of Eastern and Central European leaders. In a statement released by the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry on 14 October, the four presidents called for greater cooperation among themselves in order to build a "stable and secure Europe." Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Ukraine created an informal alignment in late 1996 as a counterbalance to the CIS.

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT CASTS DOUBT ON CIS'S FUTURE... Meanwhile, Kuchma told journalists in Almaty, where he arrived on 14 October for an official visit, that the CIS "in its current form" has exhausted itself as an institution, ITAR-TASS reported. Kuchma was particularly critical of the customs union of four countries within the CIS, which, he said, is a serious obstacle to trade within the commonwealth as a whole.

...MEETS WITH KAZAKH COUNTERPART. Also on 14 October, Leonid Kuchma met with his Kazakh counterpart, Nursultan Nazarbayev, Russian agencies reported. At a joint press conference, Nazarbayev characterized bilateral relations as "amicable" and affirmed that the two countries have the same views on all global problems, according to Interfax. He also said that Kazakhstan will consider any option for exporting its oil, including via Ukraine. The two presidents signed a declaration on bilateral cooperation, and five inter-governmental agreements were signed, including one designating an area of Kazakhstan in which parts of Ukraine's Zenit rockets will fall back to earth. Several Kazakh Senate members, including Engels Gabbasov, protested that accord at a meeting with Kuchma on 15 October, RFE/RL's Almaty bureau reported. Gabbasov said he opposes allowing Ukraine or any other CIS state to use Kazakh territory for military experiments.

UKRAINE HOPES TO SELL METAL FROM CHORNOBYL DEAD ZONE. According to Kyiv's Studio One Plus One television on 14 October, Kyiv hopes to attract private capital to pay for the retrieval and sale of thousands of tons of metal now lying in the contaminated zone around the Chornobyl nuclear power plant. The television station did not indicate how the metal would be cleaned or where the funds for the project might come from.

ESTONIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES CONTROVERSIAL LAW ON CUSTOMS TARIFFS. The parliament on 14 October approved by 61 to 21 votes the law on customs tariffs, ETA and BNS reported. In a compromise between the opposition and the governing coalition, the law allows the government to levy customs duties on specified goods for six months. Initiated by the coalition rural parties, the bill has long been a source of controversy. Advocates maintain the legislation will protect local producers and is necessary (even if the tariffs themselves are not) for Estonia's membership in the EU and World Trade Organization. Opponents say the bill will cause the price of foodstuffs to rise and will harm Estonia's image abroad. Estonia imports roughly half of its foodstuffs, of which two-thirds come from the EU. Since Tallinn has free trade agreements with Latvia, Lithuania, and Ukraine, the tariffs will most likely impact on food imports from the U.S., Russia, and Poland.

MOLDOVAN DEFENSE MINISTER MEETS TRANSDNIESTER LEADER. Valeriu Pasat on 14 October met in Tiraspol with Igor Smirnov, the leader of the breakaway Transdniester region, ITAR-TASS reported. The two leaders discussed confidence-building measures in the security zone separating the two sides' troops. According to the news agency, the talks concentrated on the agreement mediated by Russian Deputy Prime Minister Valerii Serov during his September visit to Moldova, whereby the security zone set up in 1992 would be reduced in size. ITAR-TASS noted this would do away with the need to bring Ukrainian peacekeepers to the security zone, despite the accord with Kyiv on the presence of those troops.