Washington, Feb. 22 (RFE/RL) - Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma was in Washington Wednesday primarily to receive an award from a private human rights group, but the U.S. administration took full advantage of his visit to fit in meetings with most top American officials and use the occasion to warmly praise his reform policies and Kiev�s progress.
As they prepared to begin their discussions in the Oval Office in the White House, U.S. President Bill Clinton said "I admire the difficult and courageous steps that President Kuchma and Ukraine have taken toward democracy and economic reform."
Clinton's press spokesman Michael McCurry later issued a written statement reaffirming "the critical importance the United States attaches to an independent, democratic and prosperous Ukraine."
State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns, following a working luncheon for Kuchma hosted by Secretary of State Warren Christopher, said: "This is a very close relationship, it's very deep and it's very broad."
He said U.S.-Ukrainian ties extend to "extremely close relations on economic issues, (and) a new and burgeoning military relationship."
In fact, said Burns, Ukraine is now the fourth largest recipient of American assistance anywhere in the world" and is now the "third largest recipient of economic assistance," surpassing Russia this year.
Even before the White House meeting with Clinton, Kuchma met with Vice President Al Gore and the two signed a U.S.-Ukrainian Agreement on International Trade in Commercial Space Launch services.
Similar to a U.S.-Russian agreement Gore signed with Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin only three weeks ago, the pact paves the way for Ukraine to enter the international commercial space launch market by allowing it to bid on five launches to the most-popular geosynchronous earth orbit, known as GEO. In addition, Ukraine will be able to provide up to 11 more launches to the GEO for use by any U.S.-Ukrainian joint venture, such as the "Sea Launch" venture, and a larger number of low orbit launches.
The fact that the U.S. signed a commercial space launch agreement with Ukraine less than a month after signing with Russia merely underscores a part of the message that the Clinton administration was clearly trying to send through its treatment of Kuchma -- that the U.S. intends to have strong ties with Kiev, but to keep a balance in its relations with both Ukraine and Russia.
The White House said it was merely coincidence, but just before the meeting with Kuchma, Clinton spent a half-hour on the telephone with Russian President Boris Yeltsin chatting over the U.S.-Russian agenda.
Press spokesman McCurry said Clinton told Yeltsin that he was about to meet with Kuchma and said the two agreed on the importance of the three nations work on denuclearization and destruction of old Soviet nuclear missiles.
Kuchma told Clinton it was "a pleasure to listen to such nice words addressed to Ukraine and its people" and said Kiev looked to the U.S. as a kind of guarantor "for economic and political transformation in Ukraine, guarantor for building and shaping a civilized, democratic society in Ukraine."
However, he said several times during his visit, Ukraine also needs "political support and economic assistance."
The U.S. administration was unable to provide details, but McCurry said that Gore outlined a package of 330 million dollars in aid grants planned for Ukraine and 860 million dollars in various trade and investment programs. Those will primarily be Export-Import Bank (ExImBank) loans to finance Ukrainian purchases of American-made products, sources said.
McCurry said the U.S. also expects to provide technical assistance to help Ukraine strengthen energy security and bolster private investment in agriculture.
Today, Kuchma is meeting with a number of private American business and investment leaders under sponsorship of the U.S. Oversease Private Investment Corporation (OPIC). The goal is to promote greater American investment in Ukraine as its private sector develops.