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Ukraine: Kosovo Creates Defining Moment In NATO Relationship

Washington, 26 April 1999 (RFE/RL) - Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma says his country's relationship with NATO is at a defining moment as a result of the situation in Kosovo.

Kuchma made the statement Saturday in Washington at the opening of a special alliance meeting on furthering Ukraine-NATO relations. Kuchma, NATO Secretary General Javier Solana and U.S. President Bill Clinton all made statements before entering a closed one-hour working session on NATO-Ukraine relations.

During his opening speech, Kuchma said he was appreciative the Ukraine and NATO relationship was moving forward. But he said the issue of Kosovo presented difficult problems that he intended to address during the session.

"The tragic events in Kosovo has forced us to rethink, practically, a post-confrontational security architecture of Europe. The issue of Kosovo is present in practically all discussions and meetings. We cannot avoid it in today's meeting, we cannot. And I expect our discussion will give all of us a new impulse to rethink today's realities. It will help to set new priorities and will give a new impulse to the development of relations between Ukraine and NATO."

However, NATO General Secretary Javier Solana did not mention Kosovo in his opening statement. Instead, he hailed Kuchma as an "old friend" who deserves much of the credit for the "successful" partnership between NATO and Ukraine. He called the relationship between NATO and Ukraine a "real two-way street."

"NATO gains from [the relationship] by having a strong cooperation partner for enhancing European security together. And Ukraine gains from it by finding a NATO that is a strong supporter of its independence, and a far-reaching program of political, economic and defense reform. The distinctive partnership between NATO and Ukraine provides all of us with a new model of cooperation. A model worthy of a new Europe we are building together."

But during his remarks to open the meeting, Clinton aid Ukraine's efforts in helping to solve the crisis in Kosovo were welcome. He called Ukraine a "nation critical to our vision of vision of a undivided, peaceful, democratic Europe."

"I appreciate President Kuchma's efforts to persuade Mr. Milosevic to end his campaign against the Kosovar Albanians, so that the Kosovar people can come home with security and self-government."

Clinton said he was especially pleased that NATO and Ukraine had agreed to establish a training center in the Ukrainian city of Yavorove. He also said NATO members would continue to support Ukraine's efforts to reform its economy, deepen its democracy and advance the rule of law - all which are "vital" to Ukraine's security and the success of the partnership.

Clinton also said that when NATO acts to maintain peace and security in Europe, it will strive to do so with all its partners.

He said: "That is what we hope to do with Ukraine and other nations in Kosovo once peace is restored. We have taken many practical good steps toward realizing the promise of our partnership." At a press conference after the meeting, Kuchma said discussions centered mostly on Kosovo and the peace initiatives put forth by Ukraine, especially one that called for an international presence in Kosovo without NATO members.

But when asked how his initiatives were received by NATO members, Kuchma said only that a solution would be "hard work not only for NATO and Ukraine, but for the United Nations as well."

Solana, however, answered more directly, saying that while he welcomed Ukraine's initiatives he could not see any other resolution to the situation in Kosovo that did not include a NATO military presence.

Solana said: "I cannot imagine mechanisms under which other countries, such as Russia, Ukraine and other countries, could compose an international force robust enough to guarantee what we want to guarantee."

Overall, Kuchma said he was satisfied with the session, adding he was certain his concerns on Kosovo had been heard and understood by NATO leaders.

In a communiqu issued by NATO, the alliance said both Ukraine and NATO support the effort to achieve a political settlement for Kosovo in which all Kosovars can live in security and peace.