Ukraine president denies being pressured by Trump to probe Biden

Kyodo News

Posted at Oct 07 2019 10:27 AM

US President Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky looks on during a meeting in New York on September 25, 2019, on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly. Saul Loeb, Agence France-Presse

KIEV - Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has denied being pushed by U.S. President Donald Trump to investigate one of his rivals in the 2020 presidential election, Joe Biden, saying he lacks such authority under the Constitution.

"I was never pressured and there were no conditions being imposed" to realize a summit with Trump or agree to arms sales in return, Zelenskyy said Saturday in an interview with Kyodo News at his office in Kiev, the first time he has spoken to foreign media about the allegations that have sparked an impeachment crisis in Washington.

Ukrainian prosecutors will deal with any requests from their U.S. counterparts to cooperate in investigations "in accordance with our laws," if they are made based on "international law," Zelenskyy said.

The allegations, which first came to light in a whistleblower report, say that Trump, a Republican, abused his office by asking Zelenskyy in a July 25 phone call to investigate Biden, a former vice president and one of the Democrats' most prominent presidential candidates, and his son Hunter's business dealings in Ukraine.

A memo of the conversation released by the White House in September quotes Zelenskyy as affirming that Ukraine's prosecutor general will "look into the situation."

But Zelenskyy said in the interview that he was merely stating that if U.S. prosecutors want help on the matter and take necessary steps, Ukraine can oblige by setting up a joint investigative committee.

He added that under Ukraine's Constitution the president does not have the power to tell the prosecutor general or investigative authorities to look into a particular case.

Zelenskyy, a former actor and comedian who was inaugurated in May, also said that "Ukraine must not be embroiled in scandals connected with the presidential election," noting that each camp or institution is releasing information for its self-interest.

The memo, which the White House said is a summary and not a word-for-word transcript, shows Trump asking Zelenskyy to "do us a favor" by investigating the Democrats' purported role in Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

While Trump has denied any wrongdoing, Democrats in the House of Representatives have initiated a formal impeachment inquiry.

The Ukrainian leader denied reports by U.S. media that Trump's requests were conditions for him to be invited to the Oval Office or for agreeing to sell Javelin anti-tank missiles to Ukraine.

Regarding relations between Ukraine and Japan, Zelenskyy said he is grateful for the continued support of his country's sovereignty over Crimea, which was forcibly annexed by Russia in 2014, and looks forward to economic cooperation between the countries.

Zelenskyy plans to visit Japan to attend the enthronement ceremony of Japanese Emperor Naruhito on Oct. 22.

==Kyodo