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Rice Urges Kyiv To Continue Along Path Of Reform --> Rice and Yushchenko speaking today in Kyiv following talks (epa) Prague, 7 December 2005 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Kyiv today expressed U.S. support for further economic and political reforms in Ukraine.

Rice, who held talks with President Viktor Yushchenko, is the first high-level U.S. official to visit Ukraine since Yushchenko won office following the Orange Revolution last winter.

The U.S. secretary of state used her visit today to praise Ukraine's political and economic changes during the past year.

Speaking today at Kyiv State University, she said one year after the Orange Revolution, Ukraine has shown good progress on reforms and promoting an active civil society. She added that an even stronger Ukraine could act as a powerful stabilizing force in the region.
Rice's statement can be seen as a good sign for Ukraine, which is seeking U.S. recognition as a market economy -- a key step toward its stated goal of membership in the WTO.

"Just as we grasped the rich potential of the Orange Revolution last year, a revolution that inspired people around the world, the United States now imagines a Ukraine that serves as an anchor of democratic stability in Europe and Eurasia," she said.

Rice praised the government as committed to democracy and, in particular, "committed to a better and more prosperous future for Ukrainian people."

She also said the United States was eager to see Ukraine continue along the path of Western integration, saying, "The United States will help Ukraine to implement the necessary political and economic reforms to achieve the goal of membership in the European Union and the World Trade Organization," or WTO.

Rice's statement can be seen as a good sign for Ukraine, which is seeking U.S. recognition as a market economy -- a key step toward its stated goal of membership in the WTO. Ukraine's WTO bid suffered a setback after lawmakers failed to pass key economic reform bills. Trade deals with Washington and other countries also remain incomplete.

Kyiv made a significant step forward on 2 December, when the European Union granted it market-economy status.

Yushchenko today expressed confidence the Americans would soon follow suit, saying, "We have sent the remaining technical clarifications regarding the steps we have taken in various sectors of the economy and we hope the U.S. will be satisfied with this technical data."

Rice's visit to Ukraine comes as the country's reformers -- who have been divided in recent months by bitter infighting -- are aiming to rejoin forces ahead of parliamentary elections in March.

Observers say a reformist victory is crucial if Ukraine is to continue its current pro-Western course.

Rice also used her time in Kyiv to express concerns about Russian draft legislation that proposes strict regulation of nongovernmental organizations operating in the Russian Federation.

The draft law has drawn strong criticism from Western governments and domestic and foreign NGOs in Russia. Russian President Vladimir Putin this week ordered some amendments to the draft in apparent response to the outcry.

From Kyiv, Rice is to head to Brussels for meetings with EU and NATO officials. Those talks are expected to be dominated by the growing controversy over the alleged operation of U.S. Central Intelligence Agency prisons in Europe.

Prior to Ukraine, Rice had been in Romania, where she signed a deal granting the U.S. access to local military bases.