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US State Department Official on Ukraine Vote, Tymoshenko Election as PM

Following are comments by Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Eurasia David Kramer, which he made in an interview with Myroslava Gongadze, Voice of America, Ukrainian Service, Washington, DC, following Yulia Tymoshenko’s confirmation as Ukraine's new prime minister:

On the Vote in Parliament

We welcome Yulia Tymoshenko’s return as prime minister. We look forward to getting down to work with her on a number of matters involving the US-Ukrainian relationship, and we hope that the Ukrainian political situation can settle down for a while. I think it might be good not to have an election in 2008 so that we do not have the distraction of campaigning and politics again, but at the same time, as frustrating as the wait might have been, it is also, I think, to Ukraine’s credit that this whole process has been peaceful, democratic and that is to be commended.

On the Main Challenges Facing the New Government

Certainly, I think, the issue of energy security will be at the top of the list. [Yulia Tymoshenko] has indicated that that is one of her top priorities. And so I think that we can expect that she will engage rather quickly on that issue. She has also reassured people that there would not be any disruptions in energy supplies and I think that it is important for her to reassure on that point. WTO – also another urgent matter where we hope the Rada will pass the final remaining legislation so that Ukraine can finish its accession process and become a WTO member, which I think would be a real achievement for the country. There are other reforms – institution-building, economic reforms and a number of different issues dealing with the problem of corruption. And then -- sorting out what Ukraine wants to do vis-à-vis NATO, whether it would want to pursue a Membership Action Plan or not – that is a decision for the Ukrainian Government; it is not for the United States or anyone else to determine what Ukraine wants to do in that respect.

On Main Issues in US-Ukraine Relations

We have what is called a bilateral consultative group and we hope to get that resumed soon in the New Year in 2008. And that covers a wide range of issues, including developing stronger ties in economic relations, helping to improve the foreign investment climate, working on anti-corruption programs and dealing with energy security. Energy security is an issue where, I think, we would want to be helpful to Ukraine, but it is an issue where Ukraine also needs to take the lead in dealing with the problem of, say, middlemen companies, where Tymoshenko has said that she would like to remove them from the energy equation. And that is something the US would support, certainly. Dealing with the issues of Ukraine’s orientation toward NATO, helping with its relationship with the European Union – that is more a Ukraine-EU issue, but it is one where we would want to be helpful on.

On the Razor-Thin Majority of “Orange” Forces in Parliament

Former Prime Minister Yanokovych has said that he is prepared to play the role of a constructive opposition. We certainly hope that that will be the case with the Party of Regions. It is important that Ukraine have a strong, healthy and vibrant opposition in the Rada, but I think it is also important for Ukraine to try to avoid gridlock that may cripple the ability of the government to move forward on necessary reforms. It is certainly possible to operate with a very slim majority. Certainly [Tymoshenko] got by on the slimmest of majorities, but I think it demonstrated that it can get done if there is unity with certain factions and I think this is the hope that we all have, which is that Ukraine will be able to move forward on a number of these issues.

On Some of the Members Proposed for the New Government

Certainly, there are some familiar faces. Seeing Mr. Pynzenyk come back, I think, is a welcome sign. Mr. Lutsenko as minister of interior. When I was there, I did meet with him in November. I think that’s also positive, and a number of other positive appointments. So, I think we look forward to working with this government on a whole range of issues. Mr. Ohryzko, the foreign minister, is somebody we know. So we certainly look forward to engaging with him in his new capacity. Mr. Yekhanurov, the defense minister, we knew when he was prime minister and after that, certainly. So, I think we have opportunities to engage on virtually every level in the Ukrainian government and we look forward to doing that.

On the Ukraine-US-Russia Triangle

As we have said many times before, it is in US interests for Russia and Ukraine to have a good, strong and healthy relationship. It is not in US interests for there to be a tense relationship between Moscow and Kyiv. And so our hope is that with the new government in place, that Tymoshenko will be able to work effectively with the Russian government, which is on the verge of elections on its own. We seem to have some clarity on what her part is going to be, which I think will be an interesting meeting when it takes place [ed. between Tymoshenko and Putin, if he were to become prime minister]. But our hope is that Russia and Ukraine can sort out a number of issues – energy will obviously be near the top of the list, if not at the top of the list in their bilateral discussions. And we look forward to doing what we can to ensure that there are good relations between Ukraine and Russia, and among all three of us.

On Chances of High-Level Meetings Between Ukrainian and US Officials

We certainly look forward to high-level engagement. I think the details and all those plans will all get worked out probably some time early in the new year, and we look forward to figuring out what would work best for our respective schedules.