KIEV, Sept. 15 â€“ Tensions rose sharply between President Viktor Yushchenko and Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych on Friday following the prime ministerâ€™s controversial comments seeking to postpone indefinitely Ukraineâ€™s accession to NATO.
Yushchenko said the prime ministerâ€™s comments were â€śa mistake that doesnâ€™t meet national interests and must be corrected.â€ť He assured the country will continue its accession to NATO.
The developments underscore a difference between the two as far as the countryâ€™s foreign policy is concerned, with Yushchenko espousing a pro-Western course and Yanukovych taking a much more moderate approach.
Yushchenko had been pushing hard for Ukraine to join NATO as soon as 2008, but Yanukovych, while visiting NATO headquarters in Brussels on Thursday, said the country will probably postpone the accession.
Yushchenko summoned Yanukovych for a long meeting on Friday. After the meeting Yushchenko told reporters that he had given the prime minister â€śa political warning.â€ť
The development is the first political clash between Yushchenko and Yanukovych after he had been appointed the prime minister in early August.
The appointment ended a four-month political stalemate following the inconclusive March 26 general election in which Yanukovychâ€™s party had collected the most votes, but had fallen short of a majority.
â€śUnfortunately, today as the president I have to say that there are some worrying signs in the activity of the newly appointed government and the coalition,â€ť Yushchenko said.
â€śI am convinced that the main foreign policy course on joining the European Union as well as the defense alliance will be unchanged,â€ť Yushchenko said. â€śNot a single week will be lost to keep the appropriate pace.â€ť
Foreign Minister Boris Tarasiuk and Defense Minister Anatoliy Hrytsenko later on Friday issued their own comments, assuring that Ukraine will continue its integration with NATO.
Ukraine was expected to submit an application to join the Membership Action Plan in November at a NATO summit in Riga, a step that precedes the accession.
Tarasiuk said Yanukovychâ€™s comments will now probably slow down Ukraineâ€™s accession process.
â€śThe possibility of getting a positive signal from the Riga summit is lost, itâ€™s clear,â€ť Tarasiuk said.
The majority of Ukrainians donâ€™t want the country to join NATO, according to opinion polls. But most admit they donâ€™t know much about the alliance except from what had been said by Soviet propaganda that had depicted NATO as a military aggressor. (tl/ez)