Early expert-level consultations have started in Brussels within the framework of the Ukraine - NATO Intensified Dialogue.
As Paul Fritch, Chairman of the Department for relations with Russia and Ukraine within the NATO Political Affairs & Security Policy Division, told Brussels-based correspondent, the upcoming Ukraine - NATO talks will address bilateral relations in the new format, which was initiated by Ukraine - NATO meeting of foreign ministers in Vilnius, Lithuania on April 21, 2005.
This will be an early formal step on Ukraine's road to joining NATO, Mr. Fritch noted.
Besides, these talks will be NATO's first opportunity to convey its vision of NATO membership implications and commitments to the Ukrainian party.
We would like to hear Ukraine's information about the reform's progress, in particular, in defense-related matters, as well as to learn about Ukraine's vision of its steps toward joining NATO.
Paul Fritch was cautious and evasive on the likelihood of raising the issue of Ukraine's NATO membership at NATO's 2008 Summit.
The US party has suggested convening NATO Summits in 2006 and 2008, he said.
Mr Fritch stated the 2006 Summit as likely to deal with NATO's transformation, the 2008 Summit as likely to be devoted to NATO's enlargement.
NATO member-nations are vetting the US proposal, Mr Fritch said.
According to him, it would be premature to predict that the 2008 NATO Summit will address the Ukrainian issue.
Much will depend, he noted, on Ukraine's effort and success in implementing the Action Plan and carrying out the defense and security reforms.
Ukraine's plans are rather ambitious, Paul Fritch noted, in transformation of its defense and interior ministries.
According to Paul Fritch, with a view of raising the issue of Ukraine's NATO membership in 2008, in fall 2006 Ukraine should join NATO's Membership Action Plan.
Early appraisals of Ukraine's efforts to this effect will be made by 2005's close, Paul Fritch noted.
Besides, he said, Ukraine has to do much to better inform the people of Ukraine about NATO's principles and tasks.
Mr Fritch underscored the significance of the NATO Council's outing session in Kiev, slated for October 19 and 20.
NATO's representatives will wish to both hear the Ukrainian party's account and see the reforms' practical results, Paul Fritch noted.
The Ukrainian delegation to the consultations in Brussels is being led by First Deputy Foreign Minister Anton Buteiko.
Deputy Defense Minister Leonid Polyakov, Deputy Economics Minister Andrey Bereznoy, Security Service Vice Chairman Oleg Belov are among the Ukrainian delegation's key members.
On NATO's side the consultations involve Martin Erdman, John Colston, NATO Secretary General Deputies for Political Affairs and Security Policy, for Defense Policy and Planning, as well as senior officers of NATO's International Secretariat and International Military Staff.
As acting First Deputy Foreign Minister Anton Buteiko told the correspondent in Brussels, practical preparatory work toward Ukraine's accedence to NATO began on Monday, September 26.
Commenting on the start of Ukraine - NATO high-level consultations, Anton Buteiko referred to the Ukraine - NATO Intensified Dialogue as a qualitatively new and very important stage in Ukraine - NATO relations.
Ukraine's success within the framework of this paramount document's implementation will largely influence NATO's decision on Ukraine's accedence to the NATO Membership Action Plan.
Buteiko referred to the Monday consultations in Brussels as having been held in the atmosphere of mutual understanding and friendliness.
In the Ukrainian diplomat's opinion, if the parties keep fulfilling the Ukraine - NATO Target Plan this way Ukraine may count on joining the NATO Membership Action Plan.
Buteiko declined to be more specific about the likely time of Ukraine's accedence to the NATO Membership Action Plan.
This issue, he noted, is not today's agenda item.
Much will depend, the diplomat stressed, on Ukrainian authorities' efforts.
This is applicable to the legislative, executive and judicial branches of state authority.
This also implies Ukrainian defense and security bodies' readiness to get adjusted to NATO standards.
As Anton Buteiko stressed, Ukraine and NATO are continuously watching and appraising either party's efforts.
Early conclusions will be made in October's second half during the North-Atlantic Council's outing session in Ukraine, and other cooperation steps at the level of foreign and defense ministers, Anton Buteiko noted.
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