Outgoing U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, in his final overseas mission, will attend Sunday's inauguration of Ukrainian President-elect Viktor Yuschenko. Aides say he will congratulate Mr. Yuschenko, and the Ukrainian people, for standing up for their democratic rights during the country's troubled electoral process.
Mr. Powell hadn't expected to even be in office for the Yuschenko inauguration. But partisan politics have delayed the swearing-in of Secretary of State-designate Condoleezza Rice until sometime next week.
Mr. Powell, who made his farewell address to the State Department Wednesday, nonetheless remains in office and will cap his four-year tenure with the high-profile mission to Kiev.
The controversy-ridden Ukrainian election process had been a major focus for the Bush administration for much of the past year. The United States was critical of what it said was blatant bias by the Kiev government in support of the candidacy of former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych.
It joined the European Union, among others, in refusing to recognize Mr. Yanukovych as winner over Mr. Yuschenko in the disputed November run-off election that was followed by mass public protests, and later annulled by Ukraine's supreme court.
Amid challenges of the December 26 re-run election, the United States had withheld an official congratulation of Mr. Yuschenko until Thursday, when it was announced that Mr. Powell would attend the inauguration.
At a news briefing, State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher said that despite the unusual circumstances of his Kiev mission, Mr. Powell will be pleased to be there and celebrate with the Ukrainian people what he termed "the results of their standing up firmly for their democratic rights."
The spokesman downplayed the notion of lingering problems over the election between the United States and Russia, which had openly supported Mr. Yanukovych and had drawn U.S. criticism for embracing him as winner of the November vote.
Mr. Boucher called it a "positive development" that Russia has now recognized a Yuschenko victory, and that the new Ukrainian leader will visit Moscow on his first foreign trip next week.
"Both these things go to show that a democratic Ukraine, a Ukraine where the president enjoys the support of his people through an election process, and where the country is governed through a democratic process, is a good thing not just for people like us, but for everybody in the region," he said. "There's no East-West tug-of-war over Ukraine. It's just a matter of allowing the Ukrainian people to have their rights and to enjoy their rights. That's what's happened. That's what happened through a careful process in Ukraine. We recognize that and support it, and apparently the Russians do too."
Mr. Powell is expected to have bilateral meetings with officials of the incoming Ukrainian government and farewell encounters with some of the other foreign officials attending the ceremonies.
Spokesman Boucher said the issue of Ukraine's future role in the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq may come up. Mr. Yuschenko called for the withdrawal of the 16-hundred member Ukrainian contingent during the campaign.
Officials here have acknowledged Mr. Yuschenko's position, but expressed hope that changes in Ukraine's troop commitment will be made in a "measured" way in consultation with the Iraqi government and coalition partners.