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Ukraine said Saturday it intends to remove tactical nuclear weapons from its territory by July despite a temporary halt ordered by President Leonid Kravchuk. But it laid down some conditions.

The weapons removal hinges on the creation of a mechanism of joint control among the former Soviet republics for dismantling nuclear weapons, a statement by Kravchuk's press service said.Ukraine proposed that the governments of Russia and other republics in the Commonwealth of Independent States immediately start negotiations on the matter, said the statement, which was carried by the ITAR-Tass news agency.

On Thursday, Kravchuk had ordered a halt to the weapons removal, saying his country wanted firm guarantees the armaments would be destroyed rather than redeployed by Russia.

He also suggested that the West assist Ukraine in constructing a weapons-dismantling facility of its own.

Kravchuk's unexpected announcement widened a rift between Ukraine and Russia, the two most populous ex-Soviet republics, which are already at loggerheads over the future of Crimea and control over the Black Sea fleet.

Ukraine's statement Saturday appeared to be in response to criticism from Russia and Kazakhstan, which said Kravchuk's earlier statement was not in line with Ukraine's stated intention to become nuclear-free.


(Additional information)

Diplomatic ties urged

Former Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze appealed to Western nations on Saturday to establish diplomatic ties with Georgia to help prevent the "Lebanonization" of the Caucasus Mountain region.

Shevardnadze, 64, returned to Georgia a week ago and was named head of a four-member ruling council pending elections to replace President Zviad K. Gamsakhurdia, who was ousted in a bloody civil war in January.

The ex-foreign minister said his aim was not to take power in Georgia, which he once ruled as head of its Communist Party, but to lend his counsel and prestige to building democracy and capitalism in his native land.

"If our foreign friends would recognize an independent Georgia and establish diplomatic relations, it would help us," he said in an interview with the Associated Press.