Ukraine Seeks NATO Ties

WASHINGTON, DC -- Ukraine President Victor Yushchenko received a thundering welcome Wednesday before a joint meeting of Congress, as he thanked the Bush administration for its "clear and unambiguous" support for his party's victory over fraud and Kremlin influence last December.

Yushchenko, who unseated a Russian-backed government, also asked for U.S. support for Ukraine's efforts to join the European Union, the World Trade Organization and the NATO defense alliance.

Yushchenko is Greeted by Members of Congress

"Ukraine wishes to guarantee security to its citizens, to live in peace . . . with all of its neighbors, whether in the East or in the West," Yushchenko said. "We do not want any more walls dividing Europe."

President Bush, who hosted Yushchenko at a White House meeting Monday, has backed NATO membership for Ukraine. He has asked Congress for $60 million in aid to help Yushchenko with legal and governmental reforms needed to make NATO membership possible.

Bringing Ukraine's 47 million people and its Black Sea ports into NATO would extend the reach of the trans-Atlantic alliance hundreds of miles eastward along Russia's southwest flank, further consolidating U.S. strategic gains since the collapse of the Soviet Union 14 years ago.

Bush also has promised to back Ukraine's efforts to join the trade group, and he's pressed Congress to lift Cold War-era trade sanctions on Ukraine.

Yushchenko's victory in a second-round Dec. 26 election came only after tens of thousands of Ukrainians took to the streets to protest mass intimidation and ballot fraud. The weeks-long demonstration was dubbed the Orange Revolution for the color of Yushchenko's party.

Dozens of U.S. lawmakers donned orange ties, handkerchiefs, shawls or caps to show support for their Ukrainian guest.

Sen. Richard G. Lugar, R-Ind., the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman who traveled to Ukraine to help monitor the second round of elections there, nodded and smiled as Yushchenko pledged to combat the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

Civil rights leader Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., applauded when Yushchenko predicted that one day the word "terrorism" would become an archaic term, "like racism, tyranny, discrimination and slavery."

Yushchenko became the third foreign leader in the past year to address both houses of Congress. Ayad Allawi of Iraq addressed the body last September, following an address last June by Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan.

Yushchenko said Bush's support for free and fair elections in Ukraine echoed generations of U.S. opposition to Soviet controls during the Cold War.

Throughout those decades, "Your words reached us and gave us hope," Yushchenko said. "No Iron Curtain could divide us."