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U.S. president to visit Ukraine March 31 on the way to NATO summit
Journal Staff Report

KIEV, March 13 U.S. President George W. Bush will visit Ukraine March 31 - April 1, shortly before attending a NATO summit in the Romanian capital of Bucharest, President Viktor Yushchenko said Thursday.

Now, I can give you the official information, Yushchenko said at a press conference in Brussels.

Ukraine and the US are expected to discuss a range of issues, including the countrys joining of the Membership Action Plan, a program that immediately precedes the accession to NATO.

Ukraine officially asked NATO for permission to join the MAP, and the final decision on the issue is expected to be approved at the NATO-Ukraine summit in Bucharest on April 4.

Bush, who has been citing Ukraine as a showcase of democratic change following the Orange Revolution in November 2004, was originally expected to visit the country in the summer of 2006.

But the visit was postponed indefinitely after the surprise creation of the pro-Russian coalition in Parliament following the March 2006 election that had challenged Yushchenkos pro-Western foreign policy.

In December 2007 the pro-Russian government of Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych was replaced by the pro-Western government of Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko following the snap parliamentary election in September 2007.

The US has been strongly supporting Ukraines accession to NATO, but some other NATO members, such as Germany, have been sending mixed signals over the past several months. Russia, which views NATOs expansion as a military threat, has been vehemently objecting Ukraines accession.

Yushchenko, a strong supporter of the pro-Western policy, has been pushing hard to secure support from all NATO members for Kievs accession plans.

Ukraine has been long seeking to join NATO, but only on January 15 it was able to send the formal request for joining the MAP.

Yushchenko, Tymoshenko and Parliamentary Speaker Arseniy Yatseniuk signed the request triggering a two-month deadlock in Parliament as pro-Russian parties, controlling nearly a half of the legislature, had protested the move.

Meanwhile, Ukraine will probably also ask for the USs assistance in arranging alternative to Russias supplies of crude oil and natural gas.

Ukraine has been seeing support for the Baltics-Black Sea-Caspian route for oil and gas supplies of energy resources from the Caspian Sea to Europe across Ukraine in a move to reduce dependence on Russian energy.

The US is expected to send a high-ranking envoy to an energy summit that Ukraine will host in May, along with other leaders of Central, Eastern European and Caucasian countries. (nr/ez)

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