Video: Awash in weapons

By Correspondent
NBC News
updated 4/4/2005 2:09:50 PM ET 2005-04-04T18:09:50

Ahead of his first visit to the United States since riding a wave of pro-democracy demonstrations to power in December, Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko spoke to NBC’s Preston Mendenhall about the road ahead and his relationship with the United States.

For the first time, he confirmed Ukraine sold nuclear-capable cruise missiles to Iran. Yushchenko also said he is recovering from a poisoning he blames on his rivals for power in the former Soviet republic.

Preston Mendenhall: How is your health?
President Viktor Yushchenko: Good, good.  I feel much better than I did five months ago when it happened. And it's very important that we now know more about what kind of poison it was, how it got into me and most importantly, how to fight it. So I am very optimistic now. Everything's going according to plan.

Can you confirm that the Ukrainian missiles were indeed sold to Iran and China?
I can. I confirm that, although I do so with great bitterness. It wasn't done by this government, and it isn’t done now. But when I became president, I gave orders to the Ukrainian security service to give an honest answer before the whole world.

It's true that Ukrainian missiles were sold to Iran and China. An investigation was conducted. A few days ago I received a memorandum which detailed sales through the fabrication of original documents, through a series of front men who were linked to of a number of countries, including Russia.

Can this happen again?
It won't happen again because we're another government. You know, that's not the reason why we stood on the square [during the “Orange Revolution”]. We want to carry out honest politics. And that's why a change in power was needed in the Ukraine.

The problem's not that the previous government made an underground weapons deal, but rather that half the country lived underground. I don't want that kind of life. It's not the right way to live.

You have called the previous regime a “bandit government.” U.S. officials have referred to Ukraine as a “mafia state.” How can you improve Ukraine's image before the world?
We have to change the political system in order to guarantee the existence of an honest government, a transparent government that would realize economic, humanitarian, social, financial, and other policies by honest, public means.

We formed a government of popular trust. We annulled privatizations which had been carried illegally. We canceled all kinds of credit with budget finances and government resources. That testifies to the fact that we want to play by fair rules.

Corruption is the country's No. 1 problem, which begins with the government. I think that today Ukraine is learning really well. Ukraine is learning democracy, the supremacy of law and freedom very well. I think that's a great beginning for the people.

Your wife is American. You were treated secretly by American doctors for your illness during the campaign. American non-governmental organizations played a significant role in fostering the democratic movement that brought you to power. How did this close relationship with the United States develop?
What I value in my wife, what I've witnessed, is how she has thanked America as a country, as the land where she was born … because of America, she has the world view that she has today.

I remember a number of years ago when we were witnesses to how law and order didn't work in Ukraine. I saw how she, with such great pride, said, you know, democracy can give you answers to those questions. If there is democracy in Ukraine, Ukraine won't have these problems.

So I can use this opportunity to give your country my thanks that all because of your country, your schools, there is this person on the earth who respects, loves America, but on the other hand is a wonderful bearer of Ukrainian values.

Preston Mendenhall is an NBC News correspondent based in Moscow.

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