US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice meets with her Ukrainian counterpart, Foreign Minister Boris Tarasyuk (L), according to TodayOnline. Rice told Tarasyuk that Washington was eager to work with the new government of pro-Russian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told her Ukrainian counterpart that Washington was eager to work with the new government of pro-Russian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych.

But she said Ukraine`s integration into the US-led NATO alliance and other "Euro-Atlantic" institutions depended on the pace of democratic reform in the former Soviet republic, a senior US official said.

Rice met with Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, accompanied by the State Department`s chief human rights official, Barry Lowenkron, and its top democracy promotion advocate, Undersecretary of State Paula Dobriansky.

Rice raised the possibility of visiting Ukraine during 45 minutes of talks, but no decision was announced, the official said on condition of anonymity.

"The secretary emphasized that the United States is ready to work with the new democratically elected Ukrainian government," the official said.

Yanukovych, a former communist, was blocked in his bid to claim the Ukrainian presidency in disputed elections two years ago by a US-backed "Orange Revolution" which saw his Western-leaning rival, Viktor Yushchenko, take control of the country.

But he made a spectacular comeback after Yushchenko was forced by months of political deadlock to offer Yanukovych, 56, the prime minister`s position last month in a government of national union. Tarasyuk, the foreign minister, is from Yushchenko`s party in the alliance.

Yanukovych quickly challenged Yushchenko`s foreign policy by announcing a "pause" in its efforts to join the US-led NATO military alliance, though he expressed support for Ukraine`s eventual membership in the European Union.

Yushchenko had set an ambitious target of joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization by 2008, a development strongly opposed by Moscow, and he rejected Yanukovych`s announcement as "mistaken" and said it would be corrected.

In their talks Monday, Rice "reiterated that the US supports Ukrainian integration into Euro-Atlantic institutions" -- meaning NATO and the European Union.

But she said the "pace of that evolving relationship will depend on continued reforms in Ukraine and the Ukrainian government`s comfort with the pace of that evolving relationship", the official said.


They also discussed negotiations on Ukraine`s candidacy to join the World Trade Organisation, a possible Ukrainian contribution to the UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon and regional efforts to deal with "frozen conflicts", he said, without elaborating.

Prior to Ukraine`s disputed 2004 election, the United States had actively funnelled funds to pro-democracy, non-governmental groups and sent election monitors to observe the polls.

But US officials have dismissed suggestions that Ukraine under Yanukovych and his association with the authoritarianism and corruption of ex-president Leonid Kuchma has fallen from the democratic path.

State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said recently that Yanukovych`s move up into the prime ministership was "the evolution of a democratic process in Ukraine".

."Mr Yanukovych has come to the prime ministership in the old-fashioned, democratic way. He worked hard for votes, he campaigned, he politicked."

."We are going to work with the government of Mr Yanukovych just as we would with any other democratically elected government," McCormack said.