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UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT DENIES AUTHORIZING ARMS SALES TO IRAQ... At a news conference in Kyiv on 8 October inaugurating the press center of the presidential administration, President Leonid Kuchma denied that he has ever authorized the supply of weapons to Iraq, UNIAN reported. Kuchma said such supplies are impossible for "objective reasons," adding that Ukrainian military contracts are monitored by the Security Service of Ukraine and a special committee under the UN Security Council. "[Had I authorized a sale of weapons to Iraq], the entire world would have known about that," Kuchma added. The Ukrainian president said the recent allegations that Kyiv may have sold radar systems to Baghdad "will sink into oblivion." JM

...AND SAYS HE WANTS 'CONSTRUCTIVE RELATIONS' WITH WASHINGTON. Kuchma also said at the news conference that Ukraine is interested in "normal, constructive relations with the United States," UNIAN reported. He said he regrets that the current relations between Kyiv and Washington do not match the level of the strategic partnership that existed during the presidency of Bill Clinton. "Ukraine is not to blame for what is taking place," Kuchma added. The Ukrainian president also said he is sorry that the Ukrainian-U.S. relations have been affected by the "dubious tapes" made by former presidential bodyguard Mykola Melnychenko. "I don't know for sure who is behind this [audio tape] scandal, but my firm conviction is that it is not the major [Melnychenko], with his intellect," the Ukrainian leader noted. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT DECLARES READINESS TO DISCUSS CENSORSHIP WITH JOURNALISTS... Kuchma pledged at the 8 October news conference that he is ready to negotiate with representatives of the recently launched independent union of journalists (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 October 2002) in order to "sort out what they claim to be political censorship" in Ukraine, UNIAN reported. "[I do not rule out that] there is some pressure somewhere. However, according to the constitution, censorship is not permitted. Someone is exaggerating somewhat here," the president said. Kuchma stressed that "antipresidential publications" in Ukraine are distributed freely. He recalled that the State Tax Administration has agreed that the international media watchdog Reporters Without Borders can be present at regular audits of Ukrainian media organizations. JM

...STRESSES IMPORTANCE OF RECENT ACCORD ON JOINT GAS CONSORTIUM WITH RUSSIA... At the same 8 October news conference, Kuchma said the signing in Chisinau on 7 October of an accord between Ukraine's Naftohaz and Russia's Gazprom on the creation of an international consortium for managing and developing Ukraine's gas-pipeline system (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 October 2002) was an important step, UNIAN reported. "This was not a final resolution, this was an interim resolution," Kuchma said about the signed document. He added that the document is not about the sale or privatization of Ukraine's gas-transport system but about "increasing gas supplies to Europe without building gas pipelines to bypass Ukraine." JM

...AND SLAMS POLAND FOR PROPOSAL TO HOST TALKS BETWEEN UKRAINIAN AUTHORITIES, OPPOSITION. Kuchma said at the 8 October news conference that he assesses the recent proposal by Polish Premier Leszek Miller to hold talks between the Ukrainian authorities and the opposition during an upcoming international conference in Warsaw (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 October 2002) as "interference in Ukraine's domestic affairs," UNIAN reported. He said, "We will sort out [our problems] by ourselves. Let them not stand in our way. I don't think that this [proposal] means assistance, pardon my saying." JM

POLISH PRESIDENT MOLLIFIES KUCHMA'S IRE OVER CONFERENCE IN WARSAW. President Aleksander Kwasniewski on 8 October spoke by telephone with his Ukrainian counterpart, Leonid Kuchma, Polish media reported. The conversation took place after Kuchma's news conference at which he accused Poland of interfering in Ukraine's internal affairs (see above). Kuchma's charges were provoked by Poland's proposal to gather representatives of the Ukrainian government and the opposition for roundtable talks during a conference in Warsaw on 15-16 October on Ukraine's role following expected NATO and EU enlargement. According to a statement issued by the Polish president's office, Kuchma "accepted with interest" the initiative to hold such a conference in Warsaw and promised to send his representative to the conference. The statement also said that Kuchma will be unable to personally attend the conference owing to the upcoming visit by the Iranian president to Kyiv. JM