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U.S. expresses regrets, offers help to Soviets

By MATTHEW C. QUINN

WASHINGTON, April 29, 1986 (UPI) - The United States, expressing regret to the Soviets Tuesday about a nuclear disaster in the Ukraine, formally offered technical and medical help but asked the Kremlin to release more information.

State Department officials said the U.S. Embassy in Moscow was in contact with Americans in the area of the giant Chernobyl power plant and ''has no reports of Americans affected by the incident.''

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Still, the department issued a travel advisory late Tuesday recommending that Americans not travel to the area around Kiev, the major city near the plant, until further notice.

Rozanne Ridgway, assistant secretary of state for European and Canadian affairs, conveyed the U.S. aid offer to Soviet charge d'affairs Oleg Sokolov at a previously scheduled meeting.

But State Department spokesman Charles Redman said Ridgway also requested more details. ''We hope the Soviet Union will provide information about the accident in a timely manner,'' Redman said.

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A Soviet diplomat in Finland called it the worst nuclear accident in history, and one unconfirmed report placed the death toll at about 2,000.

Official Moscow radio said two people were killed by the accident north of Kiev. The Soviet news agency Tass said residents of three settlements around the plant were evacuated.

Redman said Ridgway expressed ''deep regret'' to Sokolov on behalf of President Reagan, who was in Indonesia for an Asian summit.

''We hope casualties and material damage are minimal,'' Redman said. ''The United States is prepared to make available to the Soviet Union humanitarian and technical assistance in dealing with this accident.''

White House spokesman Larry Speakes told reporters traveling with Reagan that the president was being kept informed about the situation, and ''we understand there is no danger to the United States.''

Swedish and West German officials reported the Soviets were seeking advice in putting out a nuclear fire, but Redman said Tuesday there had been no request for U.S. assistance.

''We could he helpful and would be if asked,'' said White House chief of staff Donald Regan in Indonesia. ''We have a lot of experience handling these things, both medically and scientifically.''

Redman said the State Department did not have an accurate estimate of the number of Americans in the Kiev region. But he said the embassy in Moscow was in contact with Americans registered there and with Intourist, the Soviet travel agency, about the safety of U.S. tourists.

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Another State Department official said there were 367 Americans registered as living in the Soviet Union, and reports of telephone calls from Americans in Kiev indicated ''all Americans in the area are fine.''

The United States is making plans to open a consulate in Kiev under an agreement reached at the Geneva summit last year, Redman said. An advance team has been scheduled to visit early next month.

At the Pentagon, spokesman Robert Sims said the government learned of the disaster from the announcement Monday by Tass -- not through information collected by spy satellites.

Sims said Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger was told ''it was a severe accident,'' and the department was ''standing by to respond in any way that we might be helpful'' to the Soviet Union.'' He would not elaborate.

At the CIA, spokeswoman Cathy Pherson said intelligence information was being gathered but ''we really haven't passed along anything on this one (to the news media.)''

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