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Powell Talks to Kuchma, is Hopeful of Peaceful Outcome in Ukraine

Secretary of State Colin Powell says the United States is pleased that the political crisis in Ukraine, following the disputed presidential election there, has not turned violent and that he is hopeful of a peaceful resolution. Mr. Powell discussed the issue by telephone with outgoing Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

The election dispute has divided Ukraine politically, but also geographically, with the industrial east of the country largely supporting Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych and western areas tending more toward opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko.

In a talk with reporters, Secretary Powell said he had spoken by telephone earlier Monday with outgoing Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma and, among other things, stressed U.S. support for the country's territorial integrity.

"We were concerned at some of these reports, and I reaffirmed to President Kuchma that it is the United States' position, and I think the position of everyone, that the territorial integrity of Ukraine is important, and that we, once again, reaffirmed that we hope that the Ukrainians would find a legal way forward, as well as a political process based on the constitutional law to resolve the problems they are now having with respect to the last election," he said.

Mr. Powell said he had also had a good conversation about the Ukraine situation with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

U.S. officials had been critical of Russia's overt campaign support for Mr. Yanukovych, and early embrace of election returns showing him the winner. But Mr. Powell said after a conversation with Mr. Lavrov last week that both countries were seeking a peaceful resolution of the political standoff in Kiev, and that the United States was not looking for a fight with Russia over the issue.

Mr. Powell noted that Ukraine's supreme court had begun considering a challenge of the validity of the election brought by Mr. Yushchenko, and that the parliament in Kiev would again take up the matter Tuesday. He said the United States is very pleased there has been no real violence stemming from the election crisis, and that people are being allowed to assemble and demonstrate peacefully.

The secretary said, if things can be kept calm, and if international mediators can continue efforts to bring Ukrainians together, then "hopefully a peaceful solution will be found."