The presidents of the United States, Russia and Ukraine signed a landmark nuclear disarmament agreement Friday that will begin eliminating Ukraine's deadliest weapons in the next 10 months.

At a ceremony at the Kremlin, President Clinton, Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk initialed a joint statement they said would lead to the eventual elimination of Ukraine's entire nuclear arsenal.As the three leaders solemnly signed the pact, Ukraine, the world's third-largest nuclear power, agreed to turn over the rest of its estimated 1,800 nuclear warheads to Russia and in return receive an immediate infusion of economic assistance, as well as the prospect of $1 billion in future profits from the sale of the uranium drawn from the weapons and converted to civilian use.

While many of the details remained secret, the statement committed Ukraine to begin the process by delivering at least 200 nuclear warheads from the SS-19 and the deadliest SS-24 missiles "within 10 months."

How and when the rest of the arsenal would be relinquished remained undisclosed, but the full process was to be completed in seven years under terms of current nonproliferation treaties Ukraine agreed to adopt "in the shortest possible time."

The agreement crowned the two-day summit meeting of Clinton and Yeltsin and, coupled with a largely symbolic move to aim U.S. and Russian warheads away from each other, marked a significant step forward in the world's efforts to denuclearize.

Wearing a tie bearing the words "Carpe diem" ("Seize the day" in Latin), Clinton told a news conference, "Getting the deal on uranium is a big thing." With the two leaders at his side, Clinton hailed it as "a very good thing for the world."

Inherited with the demise of the Soviet Union, Ukraine's nuclear stockpile will be turned over in seven years once Ukraine accepts the terms of START 1 and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, both which the former Soviet republic had resisted.

That seven-year interval would begin once the Ukrainian parliament ratifies the treaties, though it does not apply to the 200 missiles that will be turned over by November.

In addition, Ukraine agreed to deactivate the remaining of the 46 SS-24s still on its territory after that time. Ukraine now joins Belarus and Kazakhstan in agreeing to leave Russia as the sole inheritor of the Soviet nuclear arsenal. After departing Moscow, Clinton travels to Minsk for brief meetings.

But, as with much of the six months of talks leading up to the agreement, the ceremony was wrapped in some mystery as television and audio lines out of the Kremlin were strangely quiet as it was unfolding.

Clinton alluded to the stealth elements, saying "all the things that can be made public will be made public" but assuring reporters that he was "completely comfortable with the agreements that we have made."

Administration officials said later the United States had "not entered into any private agreements" and that most of what was remaining confidential was between Russia and Ukraine.

Yeltsin heralded the agreement as a "powerful impetus to cutting nuclear arsenals" and getting "a peaceful dividend" on nuclear weapons.

Though he said Russia never viewed Ukraine as a dangerous threat, the Russian president said, "Today is a historic day. This will be another important step toward getting rid of nuclear weapons throughout the world."

Kravchuk, who faces strong opposition in his country to the effort to disarm, stressed that with the move, Ukraine will receive cash and other benefits and can now enter "into normal relations with other states."

"If Ukraine is in friendly relations, further ties with Russia and the United States, it will be sure," Kravchuk said. U.S. officials conceded that Kravchuk already had twice agreed to similar disarmament measures, only to turn around and renege.

But they expressed optimism the agreement would see full implementation this time because it had been crafted to meet the specific objections of the parliamentary opposition group Narodna Rada. The officials also said the statement was binding on the parties and did not need to be ratified further.

"Our president has shamefully surrendered to American and Russian pressure," said Ivan Zayetz, head of Narodna Rada. "The main dictate of the U.S. and Russia was simply to get the weapons out of Ukraine and he has abided by their wishes."

The highly enriched uranium drawn from the weapons will be sent to Russia where it would be converted for civilian uses, including in nuclear reactors. The United States is providing close to $800 million in already appropriated funds to help that process, including $175 million for Ukraine. Officials estimated the post-processing value of the uranium of all the nuclear states at $12 billion, with the share to Ukraine of about $1 billion.



Nuclear warheads

Strategic nuclear forces of the United States and the Commonwealth of Independent States


SLBMs: Submarine-launched ballistic missile warheads

ICBMs: Intercontinental ballistic missile warheads


Total warheads:

On ICBMs 3,808

On SLBMs 2,492

On bombers 440

TOTAL 6,740

United States

Total warheads:

On ICBMs 2,250

On SLBMs 3,072

On bombers 3,452

TOTAL 8,774