March 19 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. Secretary of State Warren
Christopher travels to Prague and Kyiv today to deliver a message
that Ukraine, the Czech Republic and other nations in the region are
important to the United States.
U.S. State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns told our
correspondent that "Ukraine has become for the U.S. a major partner
in Europe," adding "we want close relations with Ukraine."
He says the U.S. believes Ukraine has an important role to play in
the stability of Europe.
Christopher is on a five-nation tour of Europe to deal with
questions of security and disarmament. He is scheduled to arrive in
Kyiv today from Geneva where he spent a day in talks yesterday with
His stay in Kyiv will be brief -- only a few hours -- but carries
Burns says Christopher's meeting with President Leonid Kuchma will
be their third encounter in six weeks. They met in early February
during Kuchma's official visit to Washington, and later that month in
Helsinki when both happened to be there on separate visits.
Christopher is to have talks also with other top Ukrainian
officials, including prime minister Yevhen Marchuk, Chairman of The
Supreme Council Oleksandr Moroz and Foreign Minister Hennadiy
Burns says the agenda will include a discussion of Ukraine's
economic reform program and activities in the NATO Partnership for
Peace program. "Ukraine was one of the first to join and is a leading
participant in the Partnership," Burns said.
Before he leaves Kyiv for Prague in late afternoon, Christopher
hopes also to visit a hospital, specialising in the treatment of
victims of the 1985 Chernobyl nuclear accident.
A significant part of U.S. aid to Ukraine provides medical equipment
and pharmaceutical supplies for the treatment of Chernobyl patients.
In Prague, Christopher is to have talks tomorrow with President
Vaclav Havel, Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus, Foreign Minister Josef
Zieleniec and other dignitaries.
Christopher will also meet tomorrow with foreign ministers of other
European countries, including the Baltics, at a regional conference on
security in Prague.
He plans to deliver what Burns says will be a major address on
Much of Christopher's talks in Prague are expected to focus on NATO
expansion and the desire of some Central Europeans to accelerate the
process of joining the alliance.
Christopher has told reporters that one of the reasons he is going
to Prague is "to reassure the Central Europeans" of the U.S.
commitment to expanding NATO.
But he says, the U.S. and NATO allies do not believe the current
policy should change. "We will continue to maintain a steady,
deliberate course," he said.
Under the current timetable, no new members are to be accepted this
year. U.S. officials are deliberately vague about a date for
expansion. They say only that NATO will make the decisions about who
and when by the end of this year.
Christopher winds up his stay in Prague on Thursday when he leaves
for Moscow, the last leg of his tour. He is scheduled to spend two
days in the Russian capital devoting part of the time to bilateral
talks with top Russian officials, including President Boris Yeltsin.
On Saturday, he attends a meeting of the contact group on Bosnia with
Balkan leaders, which is being hosted for the first time by Russia. He
is scheduled to leave Moscow for Washington late Saturday.