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Rice Expresses Understanding for Ukrainian Troop Withdrawal from Iraq

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice held talks Friday with her Ukrainian counterpart Boris Tarasiuk on, among other things, the Washington visit next month by Ukraine's new President Viktor Yushchenko. Ms. Rice expressed understanding for Ukraine's decision to withdraw its troop contingent from Iraq by the end of the year.

Mr. Yushchenko had made the withdrawal of Ukraine's troop contingent from Iraq part of his election platform.

And his government's decision to remove the 1,600 troops by year's end, with an initial withdrawal phase in May, is being greeted with neither surprise nor overt disappointment in Washington.

At a joint news conference with Foreign Minister Tarasiuk, Secretary Rice expressed appreciation for Ukraine's decision to contribute troops two years ago at a time when she said not all that many states were prepared to do so.

She said a democratic political process has been launched in Iraq because of the contributions of Ukraine and other U.S. coalition partners, and that she is sure Ukraine's withdrawal will be handled in a way that reflects the new U.S.-Ukrainian partnership. "We fully understand that the Ukrainian government has decided to end that troop presence. There are discussions going on about how that will be done. The one thing that I'm very certain about is that Ukraine will do it in a way that does not in any way endanger the mission, or endanger the forces of others there. So this is a planned effort between the two sides. And I know also that Ukraine intends to continue to be involved in helping the Iraqi people, through technical assistance, perhaps through some training, and we very much appreciate that," she said.

The talks here also covered bilateral issues including Ukraine's complaints about visa procedures for its nationals seeking to visit the United States, its efforts to gain market-economy status under U.S. trade law, and efforts to end Cold War-era economic penalties against it under the Jackson-Vanik amendment.

Mr. Tarasiuk met with Congressional leaders Thursday, and said he had gotten assurances that the Jackson-Vanik restrictions, originally intended to force Communist states to allow free emigration, would be lifted soon.

In an appearance at Washington's National Press Club Friday, the Ukrainian Foreign Minister said President Yushchenko, in his April 4 White House visit, hoped to promote development of a truly strategic partnership with the United States.

He said Mr. Yushchenko, who won out over a pro-Moscow rival in a controversy-ridden election process, wanted U.S. help in joining NATO and the World Trade Organization, while also wanting to maintain friendly relations with Russia.

However in his talk with reporters here, Mr. Tarasiuk said Ukraine is leery about a continuing role in Russian-led regional groupings such as the Commonwealth of Independent States, or CIS, which is due to hold a foreign ministers' meeting soon. "The CIS throughout the years, has proved to be ineffective. And that is why Russia was looking for another format of meetings like a customs union, economic union, the Eurasian Community, and now the Single Economic Space. The position of Ukraine at this forthcoming ministerial meeting will be consistent: that is we are going to support anything which will coincide with our vision of the place and role of community, and we are certainly not going to support anything which contradicts our national interests," he said.

Secretary Rice hailed the so-called Orange Revolution of popular protests of election fraud that helped bring Mr. Yushchenko to power, calling it an example to the world of what happens when the aspirations of a free people can no longer be denied.

It was confirmed by the State Department Friday that U.S. doctors from the University of Virginia helped treat Mr. Yushchenko when he flew to Vienna during last year's campaign seeking help from a case of dioxin poisoning.

State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher said the U.S. government helped arrange the medical care, which he said was provided not because the United States supported his candidacy but in the interest of making sure he got the treatment he needed.

Experts determined that a massive dose of dioxin caused the severe abdominal pain and facial disfigurement that hampered Mr. Yushchenko's election bid. The circumstances of the poisoning remain a mystery.