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Ukraine: U.S. Looks Forward To Prime Minister's Visit

By Michael Mihalisko/K.P. Foley

Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko is set to begin a long-delayed visit to Washington on Sunday, in the midst of fresh questions about the country's financial dealings. Still, a senior U.S. official who spoke with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Ukrainian Service Correspondent Michael Mihalisko says the White House has great confidence in Yushchenko and President Leonid Kuchma. NCA Correspondent K.P. Foley has this report.

Washington, 8 May 2000 (RFE/RL) -- National Security Council director for Russian, Ukrainian and Eurasian Affairs John Tedstrom says the United States wants to help Ukraine build a rich and vibrant economy and a democratic society.

Tedstrom also says the U.S. believes that Ukraine's current government has the best chance to reach those objectives, despite some potentially embarrassing international publicity.

In an interview with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, on the eve of Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko's visit, Tedstrom said:

"We have the utmost enthusiasm for the Prime Minister and his visit. We are very encouraged by President Kuchma's commitment to reform that he's articulated since being re-elected and we think that together President (Leonid) Kuchma and Prime Minister Yushchenko represent the best chance that Ukraine has had since independence to achieve those goals."

For Yushchenko, unpleasant history may be repeating itself.

He originally planned to visit Washington in March, but his trip was postponed by the disaster at the Barakova mine that left 81 coal miners dead.

That trip would also have started just as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) reported that Ukraine's central bank had engaged in a number of transactions to generate a falsely optimistic picture of its foreign currency reserves between 1996 and 1998.

Results of an audit requested by the IMF were published Friday, as the prime minister was preparing to leave. The accounting firm Price, Waterhouse Coopers says the National Bank conducted 21 secret transactions that led it to overstate its foreign exchange reserves. IMF officials said they probably would not have loaned Ukraine about $1.3 billion in 1997 if they had known about the transactions.

Tedstrom said the topic will certainly come up during Yushchenko's Washington talks. But he also said the U.S. does not want to dwell on that issue.

"We want to put this problem behind us and we think Prime Minister Yushchenko is uniquely positioned to do that as prime minister and we look forward to talking with him about this issue."

Tedstrom said the U.S. welcomes Yushchenko's "openness and his constructive approach to this issue," and he noted that the prime minister has pledged full cooperation with the IMF. He said Ukraine wants to move forward in its dealings with the IMF, and Tedstrom said the U.S. is eager for that to happen.

Yushchenko begins his working visit in Washington on Monday with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. He is scheduled to meet President Bill Clinton on Tuesday, and he will also have talks with IMF and World Bank officials in Washington, as well as with leaders of the U.S. Congress.

Tedstrom said the process of strengthening Ukraine's ties with the European Union and other trans-Atlantic institutions such as the NATO alliance also will be on the agenda.

"We consider Ukraine's economic reforms as part of its broader agenda to integrate with the European and the Euro-Atlantic community of market democracies."

Yushchenko is due to leave Washington on Wednesday.