Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice held talks in Kiev with President Viktor Yushchenko and other top Ukrainian officials, pledging to continue U.S. support for the country as an American "strategic partner." Ms. Rice also expressed concern about legislation in neighboring Russia that would restrict non-governmental organizations.
U.S. officials have been openly concerned that the "Orange Revolution" that brought the reform-minded Mr. Yushchenko to power a year ago has yet to deliver tangible benefits to the Ukrainian people.
But Ms. Rice, at a joint news conference with the Ukrainian president, made clear the Bush administration intends to stand by his government and continue pressing for its membership in Euro-Atlantic institutions, starting with its stalled effort to join the World Trade Organization.
"America of course values the friendship of Ukraine, a great strategic partner and an important country within Europe, and that we look forward to further work with this team, which is so committed to democracy, so committed to Ukraine's future, and most especially so committed to a better and more prosperous future for the Ukrainian people," said Condoleezza Rice.
Mr. Yushchenko's first year in office has been marked by political turbulence and few economic successes. But in his remarks at the news session he sharply contested a reporter's suggestion that his government is in disarray and the national economy stagnant.
He said his government had moved quickly to correct economic mistakes of the previous government, citing a list of statistics showing economic growth returning. He also said remaining obstacles to World Trade Organization membership for Ukraine are more procedural than substantive and said the accession process could be complete within a few months.
On another matter, Secretary Rice stressed American concern over legislation in the Kremlin-controlled Russian parliament, the Duma, that would sharply restrict the activities of non-governmental organizations.
She said the United States has expressed its concern to Russian authorities "at all levels" over the legislation she said could threaten Russia's democratic future:
"The role of non-governmental organizations that have been working in Russia and other newly-independent states of the former Soviet Union are simply trying to help citizens to organize themselves better, to petition their government, to make changes in the policies that effect their daily lives," she said. "That is the essence of democracy. We are making the case to the Russian government. We are also making the case to other places as well."
Ms. Rice said a healthy civil society in Ukraine is one reason the United States has such hope and optimism for that country's future. The Russian legislation has had only one of the three required readings in the Duma.