- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 3, 2005

KIEV — Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko will meet President Bush at the White House today at the start of a triumphal four-day visit in which he will seek support for his country’s efforts to join NATO and other international institutions.

Mr. Yushchenko, elected late last year after a bloodless Orange Revolution that thrilled the world, has said he also hopes the visit will strengthen economic and political ties with “strategic partner” United States.

U.S.-Ukrainian relations had soured steadily under the 10-year authoritarian presidency of Leonid Kuchma, who was unseated in December after large crowds refused to accept the result of a discredited presidential ballot.

“I believe the Ukrainian and U.S. sides both understand” that the relationship has changed, Mr. Yushchenko told journalists in Kiev before his departure.

“I will speak of the political format of our relations. I would truly like for U.S. ministers to know the road to Kiev, to get to know their Ukrainian colleagues and to launch economic, humanitarian and other joint projects.”

In Washington, Mr. Yushchenko will seek support for Ukraine’s bid to join the World Trade Organization and NATO and for relief from trade sanctions imposed on the now-defunct Soviet Union three decades ago.

Mr. Yushchenko, who was inaugurated Jan. 23, has laid out aggressive plans that he hopes will culminate in Ukraine’s integration into the European Union and other international organizations.

The highlight of his visit is expected to be a Wednesday address to a joint session of Congress — an honor reserved for Washington’s closest allies, such as British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi.

The Ukrainian leader is scheduled to meet Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

He also will travel to Boston and Chicago, where his wife, Kateryna, was born and which has a large Ukrainian immigrant community. Mrs. Yushchenko received Ukrainian citizenship last week.

Neither Ukraine’s decision to withdraw its troops from Iraq nor Kiev’s recent admission that nuclear-capable cruise missiles were illicitly sold to Iran and China under the Kuchma administration are likely to dampen the upbeat mood of the visit.

“We understand the commitment that the Ukrainian government has made to its own people,” Miss Rice has said of Mr. Yushchenko’s campaign promise to pull Ukraine’s troops from Iraq.

Mr. Yushchenko told reporters last week that he expects the troops to be gone by mid-October, but sees a role for Ukraine’s businessmen and diplomats in Iraq.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Friday that Mr. Yushchenko’s government was “acting in a responsible manner” to investigate the sale of 18 X-55 strategic cruise missiles to Iran and China in violation of several international agreements.

The missiles were sold while Mr. Kuchma was in power. His presidency was marred by complaints of high-level government corruption.

Mr. McClellan said he expected Mr. Bush and Mr. Yushchenko also to discuss “the importance of supporting the advance of freedom and democracy in Eastern Europe and the broader Middle East region.”

“Ukraine is a strategic partner of the United States, in our view,” Mr. McClellan said. “We strongly support the efforts by President Yushchenko to build a Ukraine that is more prosperous, more free and more just.

“He is someone who has shown a commitment to strengthening the rule of law and fighting corruption, and someone who has committed himself to accelerating economic reforms.”

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