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NATO goes French to keep Kuchma at bay

He was told not to attend, yet showed up anyway.

But when Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma walked into the NATO summit Friday, organizers changed the seating order so U.S. President George W. Bush wouldn't have to sit next to the man he accuses of having sold a radar system to Iraq.

Cold-shouldered and isolated, Kuchma left it to his foreign minister to denounce charges he sold radar systems to Iraq in defiance of UN resolutions and discuss with his 19 NATO counterparts Ukraine's relations with the alliance Friday.

Foreign Minister Anatoly Zlenko told reporters that Ukraine will continue to pursue NATO membership -- a dim prospect given the controversy over the sale of the Kolchuha radar system two years ago.

"Our partnership, despite all the problems, has good prospects," Zlenko said.

To spare Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair having to appear next to Kuchma, NATO changed the summit seating order. Nations normally sit in alphabetical order in English, which puts Ukraine right next to the United Kingdom and the United States.

By turning to its second official language, French, NATO put Ukraine last in the list of 46 nations attending the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, which brings NATO together with other European and Central Asian nations.

Kuchma ended up with Turkish President Ahmed Necdet Sezer on one side and a gap on the other side between him and NATO Secretary-General George Robertson. He was seven seats away from Blair of "Royaume-Uni" and more than 30 away from Bush of "Etats-Unis."

"This is the first time I've seen a meeting like this arranged alphabetically in French," a NATO official said.

"It's a very neat trick: the point is that he's not sitting next to the United Kingdom and the United States," said another.

(The Moscow Times 25.xi.02)

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