Ukraine's Yushchenko Sees Quick Progress To Join NATO

RIGA, Latvia -- Ukraine President Viktor Yushchenko predicted on Thursday a diplomatic breakthrough would soon create the conditions for his ex-Soviet state to join the NATO alliance.

Viktor Yushchenko is eager to have his state join the NATO alliance

NATO has given no commitments to a timetable for Ukrainian membership. Alliance ministers were meeting to discuss those prospects in Bulgaria and were clearly focusing on political uncertainty in Ukraine after a March parliamentary election.

Yushchenko said he believed Ukraine could secure a 'Membership Action Plan' (MAP) at a NATO summit in Riga in November, expected to be attended by U.S. President George W Bush among others.

A membership action plan is one step short of an invitation to join NATO, although it does not make membership automatic.

'I do not rule out that we will be invited to join an action plan leading to NATO membership before the summit this autumn,' Yushchenko told journalists during a visit to Latvia.

'NATO membership will depend on internal developments in Ukraine. Ukrainian politicians should work hard on this.'

In Sofia, NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said ministers would examine political developments in Ukraine.

'We shall look forward to discussing political developments in Ukraine following the recent parliamentary elections, particularly of course, their possible impact on Ukraine's aspirations for NATO membership,' he told a news briefing.

Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk is expected to tell the meeting on Friday how Kiev will step up its campaigning to bolster public support for membership and counter anti-NATO sentiment, particularly in Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine.

'It's an important meeting. Tarasyuk will need to perform well,' said one alliance source.

SUSPICIOUS OF NATO

Yushchenko has promised any move to join NATO or the European Union will be put to a referendum. Public opinion is suspicious of NATO, depicted as an enemy in Soviet times.

Talks have been under way on forming a government since the election, with divided pro-Western 'orange' liberal parties saying they hoped to set aside differences and form a coalition in a parliament newly empowered to name the prime minister.

But speculation has swirled that Yushchenko's allies in the Our Ukraine party might opt for a coalition with the Our Regions Party, more sympathetic to Moscow and opposed to NATO.

Regions Party leader Viktor Yanukovich, the main loser in the 2004 'Orange Revolution' proposed such a coalition again on Wednesday on condition he take over as prime minister.

Despite U.S. support for Ukrainian membership, there has been resistance from among European members such as Germany.

NATO has urged Ukraine to stop talking about joining the alliance and the European Union and get on with measures to consolidate democracy, rule of law and transparency.

After the euphoria of the Orange Revolution that overturned a rigged election and swept Yushchenko to power, there is unease at slow progress in pushing ahead with reform.

But Ukraine's backers in NATO include Poland and the United States, keen to reward Kiev for its move towards democracy and for sending troops to help fight the insurgency in Iraq.

Source: Reuters

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