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Bush to visit Ukraine, Romania, Croatia

World

US President George W. Bush will visit Ukraine and Croatia when he is on his way to attend the April 2-4 NATO summit in Bucharest, Romania, the White House said Thursday. Ukraine’s NATO bid to be discussed during Bush’s visit.

“He (Bush)’s going to Ukraine, Romania and Croatia,” US National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe told local mass media. Bush’s European tour would run from March 31 to April 5, according to Johndroe. Prior to the official announcement by the White House, Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko said in Brussels that Bush will make an official visit to Ukraine from March 31 to April 1. Bush’s scheduled visit to Ukraine comes days before an April 2-4 NATO summit in Bucharest where Western allies are due to discuss Ukraine’s request for NATO membership.

Ukraine’s president said on Thursday, that his country’s moves toward membership of NATO would be discussed during US President George W. Bush’s visit in late March. Viktor Yushchenko was quoted by his press office as saying after talks with European Union leaders in Brussels that the Membership Action Plan that paves the way for membership in the military bloc would be discussed with Bush in Kiev. The visit by the US president will take place on March 31-April 1, ahead of a NATO summit in Romania in April. Yushchenko said he was positive the NATO summit would back the Ukrainian leaders’ request to allow the ex-Soviet state to join the action plan. “I am positive we will realize our desire to join the Membership Action Plan,” he said. In January, Ukraine’s pro-Western president, prime minister and parliamentary speaker sent a letter to the alliance’s Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer saying they hoped that the country could join the plan. Opposition parties recently blocked parliamentary work for over a month in protest against the move, demanding a referendum on the matter. Recent opinion polls showed that over 50% of Ukrainians would vote against joining NATO.

Parliament recently reopened for work after a compromise decision was reached on the possibility of holding a referendum on the issue. Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, has threatened to target nuclear missiles on Ukraine if it joined NATO. Georgia is also seeking membership in the organization. Western countries have been cautious about the two countries’ NATO bids, unwilling to further anger Russia, already irritated by and wary of the alliance’s ongoing eastward expansion. Relations between Russia and the West have also been strained over Washington’s plans to open new missile bases in Central Europe, recognition of Kosovo and other issues. (people.com.cn, rian.ru)

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