U.S. officials praised Ukraine`s fledgling democracy when Viktor Yanukovych was blocked from becoming president after flawed elections two years ago, according to AP.

      Now he`s visiting Washington as Ukraine`s duly elected prime minister, coming with the burden of convincing Americans he`s committed to keeping democracy alive.

      Yanukovych`s meetings Monday and Tuesday with Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and members of Congress were designed in part to discuss Ukraine`s economy and its possible entry into the World Trade Organization and NATO.

      But more was at stake than that.

      "The main goal that Yanukovych is coming with is to establish some credibility with the administration," said Steven Pifer, a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine and now a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Yanukovych was to speak to the group.

      In 2004, Yanukovych was seen as a foe of democracy. Western officials expressed outrage at stolen votes that initially helped him win the presidential election. The country`s Supreme Court threw out that result and ordered a new vote, which he lost to his pro-Western rival, Viktor Yushchenko.

      Yanukovych was widely discredited, while Yushchenko was praised in the West and given a standing ovation when he addressed the U.S. Congress last year.

      But Yanukovych became prime minister after parliamentary elections in March that were declared Ukraine`s freest and fairest ever. He now shares power with Yushchenko.

      Yanukovych`s trip comes after the Ukrainian parliament ousted Friday the country`s foreign and interior ministers, two key allies of Yushchenko. Pro-Western Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk was fired after criticizing Yanukovych`s Washington trip and grappling with Parliament about the president`s constitutional primacy over foreign policy.

      U.S. officials have played down the moves by Yanukovych`s party against the ministers as an internal Ukrainian matter. But they have cautioned that Ukraine`s democratic development is their primary concern.

      "With respect to Ukraine, as with respect to any other country, we certainly want to see those that are elected democratically, govern democratically," said State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey at a briefing Friday.

      Despite setbacks for Yushchenko, he has argued that the wrangling between two directly elected power centers — the parliament and the presidency — are indeed signs of democracy.