- The Washington Times - Monday, April 4, 2005

President Bush yesterday welcomed newly elected Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko to the White House and shrugged off Ukraine’s decision to withdraw troops from Iraq.

“He campaigned on the idea of bringing some troops out,” Mr. Bush said in a joint press conference with Mr. Yushchenko in the East Room. “He’s fulfilling a campaign pledge — I fully understand that.”

Mr. Bush has asked Congress for $60 million to help the reform-minded Mr. Yushchenko fight corruption in Ukraine.

“Our nation will stand by Ukraine as it strengthens law enforcement, as it fights corruption, as it promotes a free media and civil society organizations,” Mr. Bush told his counterpart.

Mr. Yushchenko, who has begun withdrawing Ukraine’s 1,600 troops in a redeployment that will be completed by fall, made no apologies but implored the United States not to cut off support to Kiev as Ukrainians battle corruption.

“It is very important, Mr. President, to feel that we have partners standing by, that we are not left in solitude in coping with these troubles,” Mr. Yushchenko said. “For Ukraine, it was a very long road to the Oval Office.”

It was a reference to the decades when Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union, followed by years of efforts by Russia to keep Kiev in Moscow’s orbit of influence. Mr. Yushchenko came to power last year after Ukrainians protested fraud in an election won by pro-Moscow Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich.

Russian President Vladimir Putin opposed the subsequent election of Mr. Yushchenko, a pro-Western reformer who wants Ukraine to join NATO. While campaigning, Mr. Yushchenko’s face was scarred by dioxin poisoning he said was an assassination attempt.

Yesterday, Mr. Yushchenko said his country’s problems are far from over.

“The legacy that we inherited is a very difficult country, Ukraine, where the rule of law did not exist and human rights were not observed, where half of the national economy is a shadow,” he said.

Mr. Bush voiced support for Ukraine’s entry in both NATO and the European Union.

“I do want to assure the Ukrainian people that you don’t have to choose between the EU and friendship with the United States,” he said.

Mr. Yushchenko said that despite the military withdrawal, Ukraine will help train Iraqi security forces and agreed with Mr. Bush’s efforts at global democratization.

“I fully concur with my American colleague in his saying that the freedom is not the gift for America; this is the godly gift,” he said.

Mr. Bush also used the press conference to cautiously praise Syria’s decision to withdraw troops from Lebanon, but he also warned Damascus to do so in advance of Lebanese elections scheduled for completion by the end of May.

“I appreciate that fact that Syria has expressed its intent to fully leave that country,” Mr. Bush said. “That not only means troops, but it means security forces.”

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