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US Professes Neutrality in Ukrainian Political Fight

The United States said Friday it is not taking sides in Ukrainian political infighting in advance of a Washington visit by Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych. Parliamentary allies of Mr. Yanukovych on Friday ousted two cabinet members considered pro-Western. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

Officials here are taking a hands-off approach to the Ukrainian developments even though the parliament in Kiev - on the eve of the Yanukovych visit - has ousted two ministers who played key roles in the country's 2004 Orange Revolution and promoted pro-western policies including NATO membership.

The vote removing the two cabinet members, including Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk, is seen as the latest episode in the long-running power struggle between Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, the key figure in the 2004 reform movement, and rival Prime Minister Yanokovych, who is considered friendlier to Moscow.

Ukrainian news reports say Mr. Yanukovych engineered the ouster of the foreign minister by a vote of parliament after they had clashed over policy issues including the Prime Minister's visit to Washington, which Mr. Tarasyuk reportedly tried to block.

At a news briefing, Deputy State Department Spokesman Tom Casey said the Yanukovych visit was going ahead on schedule, and that U.S. officials looked forward to talks with him on a range of issues including Ukraine's political and economic reforms and future ties to Euro-Atlantic institutions.

Casey said cabinet changes in Ukraine, as in any other county, are internal political matters and that the United States' only concern is that they be made in accordance with the country's laws and constitution:

"Certainly with respect to Ukraine, as with respect to any other country, we want to see those that are elected democratically govern democratically, and we certainly want to see constitutional order and whatever the legal norms are in that political system followed. But certainly that is a message that would not only go to them, but would go to any political leaders anywhere in the world," he said.

A senior U.S. diplomat who spoke to reporters challenged what he said was a mistaken assumption that the United States can only work with a Ukraine that does certain things, an apparent reference to President Yushchenko and his pro-Western policies.

He said U.S. officials never expected that one side in the rivalry between the Ukrainian president and prime minister would win and forever shut the other side.

The U.S. official said how the United States relates to the reshuffled Ukrainian government depends on the policies it adopts, and that for now,in his words, we don't have a problem dealing with the duly-elected prime minister of that country.

Mr. Yanukovych is to meet with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice Monday and see other senior administration officials including Vice President Dick Cheney during a four-day U.S. visit.