Thursday, March 9, 2006

Ukraine will remain firmly on a course of closer relations with the United States and Europe no matter how a critical parliamentary election goes later this month, Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk said yesterday.

Despite a bitter split between the two main leaders of the 2004 Orange Revolution, Mr. Tarasyuk said, the country’s pro-Western reform path and its ambitions to join the European Union and NATO will remain on track.

“I predict the core coalition of the new government will be as pro-European and pro-Atlantic as the government today,” he told The Washington Times during a day of meetings with Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other top U.S. officials.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko and populist former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko — the two leading figures of the Orange Revolution — are heading rival parties in the March 26 vote.

Polls now say a more pro-Russia party headed by Viktor Yanukovich, Mr. Yushchenko’s rival in the 2004-05 election dispute, will take the largest single share of the vote.

But Mr. Tarasyuk said Mr. Yanukovich and his allies will control at most a third of the seats in parliament, while pro-Western factions will control much of the rest. In addition, constitutional changes approved at the beginning of the year give Mr. Yushchenko the right to appoint the foreign and defense ministers.

The Ukrainian diplomat’s Washington visit coincides with a high point in bilateral ties, emerging after a long frosty spell under President Leonid Kuchma.

The House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to lift Cold War sanctions on Ukraine and give it normal trade ties with the United States, two days after the two countries signed a bilateral deal clearing one of the last hurdles to Ukraine’s entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO).

The Bush administration also sided with Kiev in the New Year’s Day dispute with Russia over natural gas pricing and supplies. The brief dispute threatened to cut off fuel supplies to much of Europe.

“In our bilateral discussions, there is very little for us to be unhappy about,” Mr. Tarasyuk said.

The WTO deal was signed even as Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, on a separate trip to Washington this week, complained repeatedly that the U.S. government was the last hurdle blocking Moscow’s bid to join the WTO.

Mr. Tarasyuk said the trade deals symbolized the strength of U.S.-Ukrainian ties, and would “be a strong signal to our businesses and to our voters about the good results of our government.”

Despite the energy dispute, Mr. Tarasyuk said, the press had “exaggerated” tensions between Ukraine and Russia, saying the relationship has long been characterized by ups and downs.

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