NATO chief still cool on Ukraine membership during visit
KIEV (AFP) Apr 19, 2004
NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer told Ukraine on Monday that it was important for the Atlantic Alliance to develop a "strategic partnership" with the former Soviet nation, but said nothing of potential membership.

During his one day visit to the Ukrainian capital, Scheffer complemented Ukraine for being an "important contributor" to UN peacekeeping forces stationed in Kosovo.

Eyeing closer relations with the United States, Ukraine has also sent some 1,600 troops to Iraq, placing them in a sector overseen by Poland, one which is going to soon see the withdrawal of Spanish troops following the terror attacks in Madrid.

"I want to reiterate NATO commitment and my personal commitment to the strategic partnership between NATO and Ukraine," the NATO secretary general said following his meeting with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Konstantin Hrishchenko.

But at the same time, the NATO chief said that Ukraine must "pay due attention" to media freedoms and human rights issues, about which various rights groups and Western governments have complained.

Ukraine, a former Soviet republic that one day hopes to join NATO as it inches away from neighboring Russia, has hailed the expansion of the transatlantic alliance as a "key element" for European security.

The enlargement of NATO was completed this month to include seven former communist countries, but Ukraine remains shut out.

Ukraine has repeatedly voiced intentions to join the Brussels-based alliance, although it would require a massive overhaul of its ageing Soviet-era military in order to qualify, one which the country has been unable to afford.