U.S. Congressional Delegation Visits Ukraine

KIEV, Ukraine -- A group of U.S. senators on Thursday praised Ukraine's recent parliamentary election as democratic, and said the United States was ready to work with any coalition government that will be formed.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko (L) greets U.S. Senate Majority leader Bill Frist in Kiev April 13, 2006. The U.S. congressional delegation visited Ukraine as part of their trip to several ex-Soviet states aimed at improving bilateral relations.

Leading politicians elected in the March 26 vote, billed by this ex-Soviet republic as its most democratic ever, are in the midst of uneasy coalition talks aimed at forming a Cabinet because no party won a majority.

"We congratulate the people of the Ukraine for their free and fair recent elections; we witness the Ukraine strengthening its democracy through such elections," said U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a Republican from Tennessee, who is leading the delegation.

"We look forward as a nation to working with whoever emerges in that government," First told reporters.

The pro-presidential Our Ukraine party, which came in third in the voting, has held several rounds of talks with its former allies in the 2004 street protests against electoral fraud that ushered Viktor Yushchenko to the presidency and became known as the Orange Revolution.

A reunion of the former Orange Revolution allies would keep Ukraine on its pro-Western course, but could further alienate the country's east and south, which leans toward Russia.

The delegation has met with representatives of all the main political forces, including Yushchenko, his ally-turned-rival Yulia Tymoshenko, and his opponent in the bitter 2004 presidential contest, Viktor Yanukovych – who leads the pro-Russian party that won the most votes in the parliamentary elections.

"The United States and Ukraine have a strong relationship that continues to grow and strengthen the ties between our two peoples," Frist said.

Yushchenko's administration has sought closer ties with the West, and Frist praised Ukraine's progress in building democracy and civil society, citing the recent decision by U.S. Congress to repeal Cold War-era human rights legislation that had stood in the way of Ukraine joining the World Trade Organization.

Frist urged Ukraine to enter the world's biggest trading club as soon as possible and pledged U.S. support. "We strongly support Ukraine's membership in the WTO ... it will help Ukraine's economy grow, it will help the creation of jobs," he said.

Source: AP