KIEV, Ukraine -- U.S and British nonproliferation experts began a 10-day visit Monday to Ukraine to investigate if the former Soviet republic sold an advanced radar system to Iraq in violation of U.N. sanctions.
The investigation stems from a clandestine recording by a former presidential bodyguard in which President Leonid Kuchma is allegedly heard approving the sale of a Kolchuha radar system to Iraq for $100 million.
The 13 investigators are trying to confirm the sale of a radar system that could threaten U.S. and British pilots in the Iraq no-fly zone, said Carlos Pascual, the American ambassador to Ukraine.
The sophisticated Kolchuha system can detect approaching aircraft without alerting the pilots, making the sale of the system particularly sensitive amid threats of a U.S. attack on Iraq.
U.S. officials have said they have information suggesting Iraq may have acquired the Kolchuha system, but have not disclosed the evidence.
The Ukrainian government has denied transferring the system to Iraq, insisting its arms exports are regulated by controls created with U.S. and other Western assistance.
Ukraine promised "maximum transparency" in working with investigators, Pascual said.
The investigators did not disclose where in Ukraine they would search during the probe.
"We're not hoping necessarily to find anything," the leader of the team, Alan van Egmond, told The Associated Press after meeting with Viktor Medvedchuk, presidential chief of staff and head of the Ukrainian government commission assisting investigators.
The United States has suspended $54 million in aid to the government and is considering additional punitive measures. Ukraine is the fourth-largest recipient of U.S. aid, receiving some $230 million annually.
Ukraine's Foreign Minister, Anatoliy Zlenko, on Monday denied an accusation by opposition lawmaker Julia Tymoshenko that Ukraine received a Kolchuha system from Belarus last week, allegedly to hide the fact that one of the systems was missing from the country.
"Those are absolutely incompetent statements," Zlenko said.