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U.S. Department of State

Great Seal Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright
Statement at the Ministerial Meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Commission
Florence, Italy, May 25, 2000
As released by the Office of the Spokesman
U.S. Department of State
Blue Line

[Text as prepared for delivery]

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Mr. Secretary General, Foreign Minister Tarasyuk, distinguished colleagues, I am pleased to join you in this fifth Foreign Ministers meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Commission.

Because the distinctive partnership that brings us here can do even more to sustain stability in Europe and encourage reform in Ukraine.

We all believe that Ukraine's relationship with NATO can help secure it firmly in the heart of a Europe whole and free. But we also know that this partnership can only advance if Ukraine, itself, is making progress.

That is why recent developments in Ukraine provide such vital signs of hope.

In last winter's elections, the Ukrainian people made it clear that they want to move forward with essential reforms, not slide backward towards a Communist past. And President Kuchma's new government has taken encouraging early steps to fulfill this mandate.

The bureaucracy has been trimmed. Some debt has been restructured. And just last week the Rada approved the government's plan to privatize large parts of the Ukrainian economy.

Prime Minister Yuschenko's visit to Washington earlier this month provided a welcome opportunity to discuss how these reforms can be extended and fortified. And I know President Clinton is looking forward to his June 5 visit to Kyiv.

U.S. and Ukrainian leaders know that now is the time to attack old problems with new vigor. And we agree that Ukraine's relationship with NATO can help it seize this precious moment of opportunity.

Ukraine has made a solid start through its participation in KFOR, SFOR and the Partnership for Peace. And this relationship will take another step forward with the July deployment of the Ukrainian-Polish Peacekeeping Battalion. But as with its broader economic reforms, Ukraine's efforts with NATO must be guided by a sense of urgency.

Tomorrow's entry into force of the Status of Forces Agreement is a sign that the new Rada understands the importance of Ukraine's military cooperation with NATO. We urge Ukraine to take full advantage of the new opportunities that it provides such as the major naval and amphibious exercise to be held next month in Odessa.

And we urge Ukraine to realize the full benefits of the NATO Liaison Office in Kyiv, by granting NATO officials access to interlocutors at all levels of Ukraine's Ministry of Defense.

Most fundamentally, we urge Ukraine to use its dealings with NATO to hasten reform of its military. This year, Ukraine hosted several NATO visits. But the Joint Working Group on Defense Reform does not have a commensurate level of progress to show for these efforts.

Merely cutting soldiers does not itself make a force more professional. Since independence, Ukraine's defense establishment has never conducted a comprehensive and open security assessment. It needs to do so now -- and to plan its forces accordingly. Only then will it have a 21st Century force to meet 21st Century needs.

Changes this basic will take courage. But these steps clearly are required. Just as NATO is adapting and enlarging to meet the needs of a world transformed, so must Ukraine's defense establishment adapt as well.

Since we first came together in Madrid, the progress of this partnership has been a quiet success story. But the time has come to accelerate and extend this progress. We must move from making plans and pledges to carrying out commitments.

Ukraine has played a singular role in Eurasia's past; its ties with NATO can help it play a singular role in Europe's future. We are here because we all have a stake in Ukraine's success. Now more than ever, what fosters the prosperity of Ukraine will serve the security of us all.

Thank you.

[End of Document]
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