President Bush said Tuesday he will work "as hard as I can" to help Ukraine join NATO and declared that Russia will not be able to veto former Soviet states joining the transatlantic military alliance, according to AP.
"Your nation has made a bold decision and the United States strongly supports your request," Bush told Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko after talks at the Presidential Secretariat here.
Bush praised Ukraine`s democratic and military reforms, and noted that Ukraine "is the only non-NATO nation supporting every NATO mission." Ukraine has sent troops to Afghanistan, Kosovo and Iraq. He also portrayed the decision as one that is "in the interests of our organization."
The president`s brief visit to Kiev was meant to be a show of support for the country`s NATO ambitions ahead of the alliance`s summit later this week in Bucharest, Romania. Ukraine is hoping NATO members will vote to give it a so-called membership action plan, which outlines what a country needs to do to join and is a precursor to a membership invitation. Georgia also wants the same treatment.
"In Bucharest this week, I will continue to make America`s position clear: we support MAP for Ukraine and Georgia," Bush said. "My stop here should be a clear signal to everybody that I mean what I say: It`s in our interest for Ukraine to join."
Said Yushchenko: "I am sure that we will receive a positive signal in Bucharest and that`s the spirit that we are going there with. "
Bush and Yushchenko met with reporters in a narrow room with a high ceiling decorated with ornate molding. The two leaders sat at a low credenza behind a wide arrangement of yellow and red roses and other flowers spread along the floor.
Among the biggest obstacle in Ukraine`s path to NATO membership is Russia. With nine former Soviet bloc countries already members, NATO countries abut some of Russia`s borders and Moscow fiercely opposes further eastward expansion of the alliance that it denounces as a Cold War relic.
As a result, Germany and France have spoken out against putting Ukraine on the list just yet. They fear upsetting already strained ties with Russia, which is a major supplier of energy to Europe.
But Bush said Moscow shouldn`t — and won`t — have the last word.
"Every nation has told me Russia will not have a veto over what happens in Bucharest. I take their word for it," he said. "I wouldn`t prejudge the outcome just yet, the vote will be taken in Bucharest."