US President Bush in Kiev for talks prior to NATO summit

(dpa) -  US President George W Bush was in Ukraine on Tuesday for a short state visit prior to an upcoming NATO summit.

Bush met with Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko and was scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and other senior politicians in the former Soviet republic for additional talks.

At a late morning press conference, Bush said that NATO members at the Wednesday summit should give Ukraine and former Soviet republic Georgia a green light to try and join the alliance.

"I wouldn't pre-judge the outcome," Bush responded to a reporter asking whether German and French opposition to the idea might torpedo the prospects of Ukraine and Georgia.

"My stop here is a clear signal that that I mean what I say, that Ukrainian membership (in NATO) is in our interest," Bush said.

Yushchenko went even further, telling reporters he was "absolutely convinced" those attending the Bucharest summit would give Ukraine a road plan to join.

"I am extremely confident there will be a positive decision," Yushchenko said.

Ukraine's entry into NATO is opposed by two-thirds of Ukrainians, and the country's giant northern neighbour Russia.

Yushchenko said Russian opposition to potential Ukrainian membership of NATO "would have no influence on a sovereign nation legitimately seeking security."

In reference to a recent conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Bush said: "I strongly believe that Ukraine and Georgia should be given (a road map to NATO membership). There's no trade offs, period. And I told President Putin that in my phone call."

Bush and Putin are scheduled to meet in Sochi, Russia after the close of the NATO summit, to discuss bilateral issues and a US plan to base anti-missile missiles in Central Europe.

The first event of the US president's whirlwind visit to Ukraine, a greeting ceremony for Bush and his wife Laura by Yushchenko, took place at 7 am GMT. Media assigned to the event were bleary-eyed, as US security rules obliged them to show up three hours before Bush actually appeared in public.

The Bushes and presidential staff headed by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spent the night in the newly-built Hyatt, one of Kiev's top two hotels.

Bush and his entourage arrived in the Ukrainian capital late Monday evening. Unprecedented security shut down a key highway connecting Kiev with points north for three hours, so the 50 plus- vehicle presidential motorcade could travel from the airport to the central Kiev without any other cars on the road.

Bush was scheduled to spend, in total, some 18 hours in Ukraine before travelling onward to the NATO summit in Bucharest, Romania, running from April 2 - 4.

The Bushes were set to attend a formal lunch given by Yushchenko and his US-born wife Katerina later Tuesday.

Bush was planning to visit the 11th century Saint Sofia cathedral, and a Kiev middle school specializing in English, before flying onto the NATO summit.

The presence of Bush and his retainers and staff left a central district of Kiev shut down to vehicle traffic, as more than 5,000 Ukrainian police and US secret service agents imposed the tightest security seen in the Ukrainian capital in decades.

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