- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 3, 2005

New Ukrainian Prime Minister Yuri Yekhanurov said yesterday his government remains committed to the reforms promised in last year’s Orange Revolution, but plans to pursue them in a more disciplined fashion.

Mr. Yekhanurov, meeting with journalists at the end of a whirlwind two-day Washington visit, said the previous government of ousted Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko had been plagued by news leaks and very public discord among senior ministers.

“I made very clear in the very first meeting of our new government that, once a decision was made, any minister who voices a separate opinion on the matter in public was basically signing his own dismissal papers,” he said.

Mrs. Tymoshenko left the government in August after a highly public showdown with President Viktor Yushchenko amid charges of corruption. The feud between the two leading figures of the Orange Revolution raised questions abroad about Kiev’s commitment to economic and political reforms.

But Mr. Yekhanurov, 57, noted he has long been a close ally of Mr. Yushchenko. His Cabinet remains strongly committed to a reform program that includes joining the World Trade Organization (WTO) and eventual membership in the European Union and NATO, he said.

His Washington visit included meetings yesterday with Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman. He also met with U.S. business leaders to pitch increased investment in Ukraine.

The prime minister said he remained optimistic that Ukraine would achieve the status of a market economy under U.S. law and was hopeful that decision would help clear the way for a favorable WTO decision on Ukraine in Hong Kong next month.

He predicted that Ukraine’s parliament, which has balked in recent months at parts of the government’s reform agenda, would soon pass all the amendments needed for WTO membership.

He said it was imperative that Ukraine enter the world trade body before Russia, saying that if Russia’s WTO bid was accepted first, Moscow could set such high conditions for its neighbor and rival that Kiev would never qualify.

The government’s shaky political standing was underscored yesterday when the parliament in Kiev failed to approve a plan to provide air support for NATO operations, such as the peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan.

The accord had been negotiated by former President Leonid Kuchma, but the new government of Mr. Yushchenko had strongly backed the idea as part of its long-term bid to join the Western military alliance.

Mr. Yekhanurov blamed the vote in part on politics — Ukraine faces a critical parliamentary vote in March, with Mrs. Tymoshenko now leading an opposition bloc — and Ukrainian officials traveling with the prime minister said the vote could be reversed in the coming days.

But Mr. Yekhanurov acknowledged that popular support for NATO membership in Ukraine is only about 30 percent.

“We still have a lot of serious work to do to build up awareness on this issue,” he said.

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