Secretary of State Colin Powell is in Kiev as head of the U.S. delegation to the inauguration of Ukrainian President-elect Viktor Yushchenko. Mr. Powell says the United States will do all it can to help the new government.
Mr. Powell will meet with Mr. Yushchenko and outgoing Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma before Sunday's inaugural ceremony, which he says will be a historic moment for the country after its bitter electoral crisis.
The Secretary of State was a key player in international diplomacy that helped avert an explosion of violence in Ukraine after its disputed November 21 presidential run-off vote.
In a talk with reporters en route to Kiev, Mr. Powell stressed his relief over the peaceful outcome, and satisfaction that he was able to make the Kiev trip as his last overseas mission before yielding his post to Condoleezza Rice, probably at mid-week.
Mr. Powell paid tribute to Ukrainians who peacefully protested what he termed the illegitimate November vote, as well as the mediation of Polish, Lithuanian and European Union officials who helped broker the agreement for the December re-vote won by Mr. Yushchenko.
Russia had openly backed the candidacy of former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, and was quick to embrace him as the winner of the disputed November election that later was annulled by Ukraine's supreme court.
In the airborne news conference, Mr. Powell said the U.S. interest in the crisis was not to thwart Russian interests in the region, but to give Ukrainians an opportunity to freely choose a President.
He said he was in regular contact with his Russian counterpart Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov thoughout the crisis and stressed that the Russian government has now joined the rest of the international community in accepting the Yushchenko victory. "President Putin has put out a statement indicating his support for the outcome and support of President Yuschenko and President Yuschenko is planning to visit Moscow Monday. So I think we all recognize that it is in Ukraine's best interests, and all our best interests for Ukraine to have good relations with both Russia and the international community, the United States, and all its neighbors," he said.
Mr. Powell said the Bush administration will provide as much assistance as it can to Mr. Yushchenko's government including help in getting Ukraine membership in the World Trade Organization. He said he would be presenting some specific ideas on U.S. help in his Sunday morning meeting with the new leader.
The Secretary said President Bush made a congratulatory call to the Ukrainian president-elect Saturday and said he hoped to meet him in the not-too-distant future. A senior State Department official said that meeting would be held soon, in Washington.
The Powell delegation to Kiev includes prominent members of Ukrainian-American community, including Under-Secretary of State Paula Dobriansky.