- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 4, 2002

Case closed
Ukraine's March parliamentary election may not have resolved the domestic political muddle, but it did take one issue off the table for good, according to Volodymyr Yelchenko, Ukraine's deputy state secretary.
"NATO as a political issue is pretty much over," he told The Washington Times' David R. Sands during a visit to Washington last week. "It was a watershed election for us in that there is now a decisive majority in our parliament in favor of the Euro-Atlantic alliance."
Kiev has clearly leaned toward NATO since the breakup of the Soviet Union a decade ago, but Ukrainian foreign policy has vacillated between moving toward Europe and keeping Moscow happy. Ukraine's Communists, until recently the second-largest faction in Ukraine's parliament, the Rada, adamantly opposed NATO membership.
But President Leonid Kuchma in May surprised some by declaring Ukraine had decided to make a formal bid to join NATO. The March election produced a Rada in which both the pro-presidential faction and the leading opposition group back NATO membership, even if joining the alliance remains a distant hope.
The communists, with just 65 seats in the new Rada, were in no position to object.
"Ukraine could not remain forever in this gray zone between Russia and NATO, but we never before had the political consensus to take this step," Mr. Yelchenko said. "Now we have that consensus."
Aside from painful military reforms, Ukraine's leaders still have a sales job to do, however. NATO's popularity in opinion polls plunged below 10 percent during the unpopular Kosovo war in 1999. Today, just 25 percent of Ukrainians have a favorable image of the alliance, with another 30 percent undecided.
But Mr. Yelchenko said the decisive declaration by the government in favor of NATO membership had one early payoff.
"It certainly makes the job of the Foreign Ministry a lot easier," he said.

Cato likes Hong Kong
Hong Kong officials in Washington are praising the libertarian Cato Institute for ranking the former British colony as the world's freest economy, five years after it was returned to communist China.
Jacqueline Willis, Hong Kong commissioner to the United States, said she was "delighted" by the 2002 edition of Cato's "Economic Freedom of the World."
"The report's findings further illustrate our commitment to maintaining free-market principles and an open and business-friendly environment, which only strengthens our position as an international financial and business center," she said in a statement.
The Heritage Foundation's annual "Index of Economic Freedom" has ranked Hong Kong as the freest economy since 1995.

Helping Nigeria
The United States will provide $3.3 million in law enforcement aid to Nigeria, a country plagued with violent crime and notorious for international fraud.
U.S. Ambassador Howard Jeter and Nigerian Justice Minister Godwin Agabi signed the agreement this week.
"The size and diversity of this agreement reflects in a tangible way the strengthened cooperation between our two countries since the restoration of democracy in Nigeria three years ago," Mr. Jeter said at the signing ceremony Tuesday.
The aid will help train Nigerian police to fight the illegal drug trade, combat fraud and end human trafficking of women and children. The money will also pay for modern equipment for law enforcement agencies.

Aussies in detention
Two Australian men held as suspected terrorists at a U.S. base in Cuba will remain in detention until the end of the war on terrorism, as far as the U.S. ambassador to Australia is concerned.
"I am satisfied that they were involved in terrorism," Ambassador Thomas Schieffer told reporters in Canberra yesterday.
"They were deeply involved with what was going on in Afghanistan. Until the war is over, I think you've got to be careful that you don't put people back on the streets who might harm the society which you are trying to protect."
David Hicks, 26, and Mamhoud Habib, 46, were captured early in the U.S.-led war against the Taliban and the al Qaeda terrorist network in Afghanistan. Both men have had access to Australian officials. They are among 330 detainees from 34 nations held at Guantanamo Bay.

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