U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice planned talks Wednesday in the Ukrainian capital with President Viktor Yushchenko, a year after the U.S. denounced his electoral defeat as fraudulent and joined calls for the rerun that brought him to power. Yushchenko and Rice were expected to discuss the pro-Western leader's ambitions of membership in the European Union and NATO. Also on the agenda are Ukraine's hopes to receive U.S. recognition as a market economy and to win the United States' backing for its World Trade Organization membership bid.
Rice also planned talks with Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov and Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk.
Yushchenko's rise to power amid last year's Orange Revolution election fraud protest helped warm ties between this ex-Soviet republic and Washington. Relations had chilled under former President Leonid Kuchma amid allegations that he approved the sale of radar systems to former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's regime in violation of U.N. sanctions.
Rice's predecessor, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, represented the United States at Yushchenko's inauguration after the one-time opposition leader won the court-ordered revote. Yushchenko defeated a candidate backed heavily by the Kremlin.
Kuchma dispatched 1,650 troops to serve in Iraq. The deployment was deeply unpopular, and Yushchenko promised during his campaign to bring them home. The gradual withdrawal began in March, and the remaining 876 troops are due home by Dec. 30. About 50 military personnel will continue to work in Iraq on reconstruction projects, reports the AP. I.L.
Presidential candidate Ksenia Sobchak, who was accredited for the press conference by Vladimir Putin from Dozhd (Rain) television channel, asked Putin about competition at the coming election
On December 14, President Putin holds his annual Q&A session with Russian and foreign journalists. This conference is considered to be the beginning of his presidential campaign