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Ukraine's NATO bid to be discussed during Bush's visit

Ukraine's president said on Thursday that his country's moves toward membership of NATO would be discussed during U.S. President George W. Bush's visit in late March.

Viktor Yushchenko was quoted by his press office as saying after talks with European Union leaders in Brussels that the Membership Action Plan that paves the way for membership in the military bloc would be discussed with Bush in Kiev.

The visit by the U.S. president will take place on March 31-April 1, ahead of a NATO summit in Romania in April.

Yushchenko said he was positive the NATO summit would back the Ukrainian leaders' request to allow the ex-Soviet state to join the action plan.

"I am positive we will realize our desire to join the Membership Action Plan," he said.

In January, Ukraine's pro-Western president, prime minister and parliamentary speaker sent a letter to the alliance's Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer saying they hoped that the country could join the plan.

Opposition parties recently blocked parliamentary work for over a month in protest against the move, demanding a referendum on the matter. Recent opinion polls showed that over 50% of Ukrainians would vote against joining NATO.

Parliament recently reopened for work after a compromise decision was reached on the possibility of holding a referendum on the issue.

Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, has threatened to target nuclear missiles on Ukraine if it joined NATO. Georgia is also seeking membership in the organization.

Western countries have been cautious about the two countries' NATO bids, unwilling to further anger Russia, already irritated by and wary of the alliance's ongoing eastward expansion.

Relations between Russia and the West have also been strained over Washington's plans to open new missile bases in Central Europe, recognition of Kosovo and other issues.

RIA Novosti

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