With a triumphant flourish, as American lawmakers waved orange scarves in support, Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko capped his first U.S. tour since taking office by beseeching a joint meeting of Congress yesterday to help anchor his troubled nation firmly in the West.
Summoning the spirits of Woodrow Wilson, John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan, the leader of the "Orange Revolution" that toppled a discredited government in Kiev called for "a new era in U.S.-Ukrainian relations" that would make his country a model democracy fully integrated in such Euro-Atlantic institutions as NATO.
"We do not want any more walls dividing Europe, and I'm certain that neither do you," said Yushchenko, evoking the moment when Reagan challenged the Soviet Union to tear down the Berlin Wall. "The time has come to make real steps toward each other." And the first, he added, should be the end of U.S. trade restrictions against Ukraine. "Please make this step toward Ukraine," Yushchenko implored. "Please tear down this wall."
Congress gave him a hero's welcome. Only a few foreign leaders are accorded the honor of addressing a joint meeting. The assembled senators and representatives greeted Yushchenko by chanting his name as he entered the House chamber and waving orange scarves and hats in recognition of the campaign color that became a symbol of the peaceful street revolt he led last December, overturning a fraudulent election. Vice President Cheney, wearing an orange tie, attended, as did most of President Bush's Cabinet.
The address was a powerful climax to a three-day trip in which Yushchenko also lunched with the president at the White House, received the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award in Boston and visited his wife's home town of Chicago. His wife, Kateryna Chumachenko Yushchenko, an American-born Ukrainian, also appealed for U.S. help at a luncheon yesterday in Washington.
"I invite you all to Kiev," she told about 150 people gathered at the event organized by Melanne Verveer, chairman of the board of the Vital Voices Global Partnership, a group that promotes women in leadership roles. "Let us all work together. A prosperous and stable Ukraine is definitely in the interest of the United States."
During his address to Congress, Yushchenko ran down a wish list of help he wants from the United States, starting with the lifting of the Cold War-era Jackson-Vanik trade limits that still affect Ukraine. The Senate is considering a measure to do that.
He also asked the United States to formally certify Ukraine a market economy by the fall, to include Ukraine in the Millennium Challenge program to fight AIDS and to support Ukrainian accession to the World Trade Organization by November.
Some Ukrainians had hoped for movement on some of those issues in time for Yushchenko's visit, but the U.S. government had made no progress on any of them. In an interview, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk expressed no disappointment. "One could not have expected immediate results," he said, adding: "At the same time, we do feel a cardinal change on the part of the attitudes of U.S. officials on Ukraine."