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Ukrainian PM Pursues EU, Not NATO, Membership
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Ukraine's new Prime Minister, Viktor Yanukovych, said Thursday his government would continue to seek membership in the European Union, but not in the NATO alliance.

On his first visit to EU headquarters, Yanukovych told senior officials that his coalition government would continue reforms meant to bring it closer to the rest of Europe.

"We have the firm intention to have excellent relations with the EU and a stable relationship, which will bring us in the long term to accession of the European Union," he told reporters after a breakfast meeting with EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner.

Yanukovych, who returned to power in this year's parliamentary elections, said few Ukrainians maybe 12 to 25 percent supported the idea of joining NATO. "For the time being we are looking at the enlargement of our co-operation with NATO," he said.

That differs with policy statements made in the past by his chief political rival, President Viktor Yushchenko, who favors joining NATO.

Opinion polls show that most Ukrainians oppose alliance membership; many are distrustful of their former Cold War foe, while others fear membership would irretrievably harm relations with Russia while bringing little significant benefit.

Opposition to NATO membership is particularly strong in eastern and southern Ukraine, where Yanukovych draws most of his support. His Party of Regions strongly opposed NATO membership in the March parliamentary election campaign.

EU officials were looking for solid commitments from Yanukovych that he would continue to steer Ukraine towards closer ties with the 25-nation bloc.

"We are not going to have policies of opposition between the two, we are going to have policies of reuniting interests," Yanukovych said. He added his government would pursue "substantial" reforms and step up the fight against corruption to bring Ukraine in line with Western norms.

Ferrero-Waldner said she was "encouraged to hear that the prime minister is clearly committed" to reforms and to pursuing closer ties with the EU.

The new premier would also head to NATO to meet Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer and participate in EU-Ukraine ministers talks later Thursday.

Ferrero-Waldner said that the European Commission had proposed a new so-called enhanced agreement, which would include a free trade pact, but only after Kiev joins the World Trade Organization.

She said such a new EU-Ukraine pact would boost co-ordination from energy policy to the environment and human rights issues.

Yanukovych and Ferrero-Waldner also signed a deal to provide new EU financing to put new meters on oil and gas pipelines in Ukraine.

(China Daily September 15, 2006)


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