KIEV, May 28 â€“ Three pro-Western parties, which are expected to form the government in Ukraine, made an important progress on a key foreign policy issue of joining NATO, a negotiator said Sunday.
Our Ukraine, the Socialist Party and a group led by former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko that control Parliamentary majority have so far been split on the issue of NATO.
But at a meeting on Sunday, the parties agreed in principle that Ukraine may join NATO after a referendum, Vasyl Onopenko, a Tymoshenko group negotiator, said in an interview with NTN television.
The agreement removes an important hurdle in talks between the three parties that will probably speed up the creation of the new government, analysts said.
The progress comes as the parties have pledged on Thursday to sign the coalition agreement by June 7 to end more than two months of talks following the March 26 general election.
NATO has been remaining as one of the few issues that had been dividing the parties, while others include allowing land in Ukraine to be freely traded starting in 2007.
President Viktor Yushchenko has been pushing hard for Ukraineâ€™s quick accession to NATO, possibly as fast as in 2008. Yushchenko said earlier this month the coalition must have a consolidated position towards the NATO before the new government is formed.
But the issue has been dividing the country. Many Ukrainians, echoing Soviet-era propaganda depicting NATO as an aggressive military bloc, have been cautious about Ukraineâ€™s speedy accession to the alliance.
The Socialist Party, reflecting such concerns from their mostly elderly voters in rural regions, has been steadily resisting the plans. One Socialist party activist warned Friday the issue may even undermine the coalition agreement.
But the progress shows the parties have managed to find a compromise on one of the most sensitive issues, suggesting similar compromises may be reached on other issues, such as the land reform.
Ukraineâ€™s plans for joining NATO underscore the countryâ€™s rapid turnaround of its foreign policy away from close military and defense cooperation with Russia.
Russia, which views NATO as a military threat, has been vehemently opposing Ukraineâ€™s quick accession to the alliance, but the issue is backed by the U.S. and NATO leadership. (tl/ez)