In an address to the U.S. Congress, Ukraine's President Viktor Yushchenko has called for a new strategic partnership with the United States, and asked for help in strengthening democracy and economic reform. Addressing a joint meeting of the House of Representatives and the Senate, the Ukrainian leader also pledged continuing support for the war on terrorism.
With many onlookers shouting his name, the Ukrainian leader received the most enthusiastic reception of any foreign leader in recent memory.
Speaking in Ukrainian, his remarks translated, he addressed a Congress universally supportive of the drive for democracy in Ukraine, and thanked Americans for their support of the "Orange" revolution: "We highly appreciate the message sent by your country's leadership before the elections, and during the Orange revolution. It was clear and unambiguous. The United States condemned fraud and upheld Ukrainian's right to freely elect their government."
Members of Congress have cited President Yushchenko's rise to power after a protracted political crisis as proof, along with other events such as elections in Afghanistan and Iraq, democracy continues to take hold around the world.
But there is concern about a number of issues, notably the rule of law, Ukraine's relationship with Russia, and its cooperation with efforts to stop the spread of weapons of mass destruction.
Describing himself as the son of a survivor of Nazi death camps, President Yushchenko pledged that Ukraine will be uphold civil liberties and fight discrimination: "Our goal is to instill in Ukraine the rule of law. We are building a society where there will be no room for intolerance."
Congress has been working on legislation that would exempt Ukraine from restrictions written into U.S. law during the Cold War linking U.S. trade with former Soviet states to emigration.
To prolonged applause, President Yushchenko called for the repeal of the Jackson-Vanik Amendment, saying both nations need to leave Cold War relics behind: "Dear friends, we want to bury the Cold War relics of the senators and House members. I am calling upon you to waive the Jackson-Vanik Amendment. Make this step…Please make this step towards Ukraine, please tear down this wall."
President Yushchenko urged the United States to support Ukraine's membership in NATO, saying this would contribute to stability in Europe and Central Asia, and also urged support for Ukraine's accession to the World Trade Organization. President Bush has said the United States favors Ukraine's becoming a NATO member.
He also said Ukraine will be a "reliable partner" in the war to eradicate all sources of terrorism, referring to the contribution of Ukrainian troops assisting the United States and coalition forces in Iraq.
President Yushchenko's appearance was the first by a foreign leader this year before a joint meeting of Congress.