April 5, 2005 in Nation/World

Bush meets Ukraine leader

Anne Gearan Associated Press
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WASHINGTON – The United States supports expanding NATO to include Ukraine, a former Soviet republic now trying to loosen historic ties to Russia, but membership in the Western alliance is not guaranteed, President Bush said Monday.

“There is a way forward in order to become a partner of the United States and other nations in NATO,” Bush said during a joint press conference with Viktor Yushchenko, the populist politician whose Orange Revolution forced out Ukraine’s pro-Russian government last year.

“It’s not a given. In other words, there are things that the Ukrainian government must do,” Bush said.

NATO membership is by invitation of member states and requires guarantees of political, military and economic openness. For Ukraine, joining NATO would mean taking more decisive steps away from Russian influence and cleaning up systemic corruption.

“We want to help your government make the difficult decisions and difficult choices necessary to become available for membership in NATO,” Bush said.

“The ideals for the new Ukraine are the ideals shared by western civilization,” Yushchenko said.

Yushchenko called corruption the No. 1 problem at home. He has promised an investigation of corruption and alleged political skullduggery during his predecessor’s 10 years as president.

Yushchenko later spoke to the largest U.S. business lobbying group, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and sought to assure business leaders that Ukraine is trying to fight corruption.

Yushchenko is on a three-day trip to the United States to lobby for aid and investment, win Washington’s support for joining NATO and greet Ukrainian-Americans. He will address Congress later in the week.

The trip comes a little more than two months after Yushchenko took office following a dramatic popular uprising. Masses of supporters camped out in Kiev, claiming that a Kremlin-backed candidate stole a disputed election.

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