President Bush and Moldova's President Vladimir Voronin have pledged to seek a peaceful end to a regional ethnic dispute that has plagued the former Soviet Republic. During a meeting at the White House, Mr. Bush also offered strong support for stepped up economic reforms in Moldova.

In a joint statement released after their talks, the two presidents describe relations between their countries in highly positive terms.

They speak of an evolving relationship based on a shared commitment to prosperity, security and freedom in Moldova and around the region.

The statement makes specific mention of Moldova's economic problems, most notably its high foreign debt. As he left the White House, Moldova's president said President Bush offered help. He spoke through a translator.

"President Bush appreciates very much how difficult it must be to go in such a short time from one mindset to a different mentality towards the market economy. He promised to support us and to assist us also in restructuring the foreign debt which is such a heavy burden on our economy right now," he said.

President Voronin also said that President Bush brought up efforts to end the longstanding dispute involving separatists in Moldova's eastern Transdniestr region.

White House Spokesman Ari Fleischer said earlier that the United States wants to see a peaceful solution to the dispute. And in the joint statement, President Bush joins President Voronin in urging the Russian-speaking residents of the region to cooperate fully with Russia's withdrawal from Moldova.

The people of the Transdniestr region moved to secede from Moldova in 1992. But the region's legal status remains unclear and it has failed to gain international recognition.

Mr. Voronin is the latest in a series of foreign leaders to visit the White House in recent weeks. He was head of Moldova's Communist party when he was elected president last year on a pledge to lift the country out its economic crisis. Moldova a nation of about 4.5 million people is one of the poorest countries in Europe.