President Bush is welcoming Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, and the White House is raising no objections about his plans to withdraw troops from Iraq"It's being done in conjunction with the coalition," press secretary Scott McClellan said Monday. "We certainly appreciate all they have done and all they continue to do to support the Iraqi people."
Bush frequently cites Yushchenko's peaceful rise to power as an example of the march of freedom throughout the world and has pledged to help him make further democratic reforms.
McClellan said the agenda for the meeting Monday in the Oval Office included the spread of democracy in Eastern Europe and the Middle East and curbing the spread of weapons.
Yushchenko told The Associated Press before leaving for Washington that he and Bush will review steps to end illicit arms sales from his country. Relations deteriorated after Washington accused former President Leonid Kuchma's regime of selling radar systems to Iraq in violation of international sanctions.
Although the sale to Iraq has not been definitively proved, Ukrainian officials recently released information about an array of shady weapons deals under Kuchma, including cruise missile sales to Iran and China.
"It was not easy for me and my government to publicly announce facts about such dealings shortly before the trip to the U.S.," Yushchenko said.
Ukraine sent some 1,650 troops to Iraq in a move widely seen as an attempt to smooth relations. However, the deployment was widely unpopular at home and Ukraine has begun withdrawing troops. Yushchenko said the pullout likely will be completed in the fall, fulfilling a campaign promise.
Still, McClellan said Friday that the White House considers Ukraine "a strategic partner."
"Certainly President Yushchenko has been a strong partner in the war on terrorism," he said.
Rise to power
Yushchenko was elected in December after surviving dioxin poisoning that left his face disfigured. He blames the poisoning on Kuchma's regime. Kuchma supported Yushchenko's opponent in the election.
Bush has praised the Democratic revolution that brought Yushchenko to power in the former Soviet republic. The two leaders met once before, during a NATO summit in Belgium in February. Bush appeared struck by his encounter with a fellow president "who had just led a revolution -- a peaceful revolution based upon the same values that we hold dear."
After their NATO meeting, Bush said the "door is open" for Ukraine to join the alliance. "But it's up to President Yushchenko and his government and the people of the Ukraine to adapt the institutions of a democratic state," he added.
McClellan wouldn't say whether Bush would endorse Ukrainian membership into NATO or offer any other economic or political support during Monday's visit. He said he suspected the two leaders would have more to say at a news conference after their meeting.
Yushchenko also said he hopes to ease visa restrictions between Ukraine and the United States.
Yushchenko planned to spend three days in the United States, including stops in Chicago and Boston, but it was unclear whether the schedule might be affected by the funeral for Pope John Paul II that was expected to draw world leaders.
Yushchenko was to meet with Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Monday. He planned to speak to a joint meeting of Congress and to students at Georgetown and Harvard universities during his visit.
He was being accompanied by his wife, Kathy Chumachenko, who grew up in Chicago as the daughter of Ukrainian immigrants. She planned a speech at her alma mater, the University of Chicago.