Ukraine's FM Says NATO Membership 'Irreversible' Foreign Policy Goal

SOFIA, Bulgaria -- Describing NATO membership as an "irreversible" foreign policy goal, Ukraine's Foreign Minister Borys Tarasiuk said Friday that reforms underway in the country's Soviet-style defense sector should ease concerns over its ability to comply with NATO standards.

Ukraine's Foreign Minister Borys Tarasiuk (L), shares a word with NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer during a meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Commission at the National Palace of Culture in Sofia, Friday, April 28

"The aspiration to NATO membership is natural (and) Ukraine's course is irreversible," Tarasiuk told a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in the Bulgarian capital, Sofia.

The push for membership by former Soviet states Ukraine and Georgia has raised concerns in Moscow that the United States and NATO were seeking to encircle Russia. Russia's foreign ministry has warned such an expansion would force Moscow to reorganize its armed forces in response.

On Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Ukraine must meet a set of stringent criteria before it can be considered for membership.

Tarasiuk said that Ukrainian President Victor Yushchenko "had tasked various security bodies to initiate defense sector reforms ... mindful of the fact that the defense industry preserved the Soviet approach and working style."

According to general NATO requirements, Ukraine's bloated post-Soviet military will have to be brought in line with alliance standards and the country will have to strengthen civilian control over the armed forces.

Tarasiuk said his government was already working to comply with alliance standards through a joint NATO-Ukraine committee, describing this as "a major step forward to substantial practical cooperation and enhancing of our relations."

But he noted that there was still "a lot of homework" to be done to increase public support for the move. Ukraine hopes it could be invited to join by 2008, Tarasiuk said.

"We hope that this year the strengthening of NATO-Ukraine relations will have its logical continuation in the framework of the main preparations program - the membership action plan and ... the invitation to accession talks."

Ukraine hopes it could be invited to join by 2008, Tarasiuk said.

At a joint news conference with Tarasiuk, NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said that Ukraine was increasingly pulling its weight in being a security provider in regions such as Kosovo, Dharfur and Afghanistan.

"NATO's door remains open and Ukraine's aspirations are ultimately achievable," he said.

Source: AP