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Foreign minister: Ukraine could sign EU agreement this month minister

AFP-JIJI, AP

Ukraine said Sunday it could sign later this month part of a crucial EU agreement for greater integration, even as the former Soviet state remains in a state of upheaval.

“The political association with the European Union could be signed on March 17 or 21,” Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchytsya said in an interview with Ukrainian 1+1 television.

The new government in Kiev had already earlier said it planned to sign the political parts of an EU association pact before snap presidential elections on May 25.

The dates given by the minister correspond to a meeting of European Union foreign ministers on March 17, and a summit of EU leaders on March 20-21.

Kiev was close to signing an association pact and free trade deal with Brussels in November, but President Viktor Yanukovych scrapped the agreement at the last minute in favor of closer ties with Moscow, setting off mass protests in the country that resulted in 100 deaths and Yanukovych’s eventual ouster last month.

The signing of the EU accord will take place after a March 16 referendum in Ukraine’s autonomous Crimean Peninsula, whose pro-Moscow leadership wants to become part of Russia amid the worst East-West confrontation since the Cold War.

In Washington, the White House said U.S. President Barack Obama will meet this week with Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, in a prominent show of U.S. support for Ukraine’s fledgling new government.

Vice President Joe Biden cut short his trip to Latin America, canceling a planned stop in the Dominican Republic so he can attend Wednesday’s meeting, an aide to Biden said Sunday. Biden had been the White House’s prime point of contact with Yanukovich, before he fled to Russia last month.

Obama’s White House meeting with Yatsenyuk will focus on options to peacefully resolve Russia’s military intervention in Crimea, the White House said, adding that the resolution must respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

By inviting Yatsenyuk, whose government Russian President Vladimir Putin alleged took power by way of an unconstitutional coup, the U.S. is also sending a clear signal to Moscow that the U.S. considers Yatsenyuk to be Ukraine’s legitimate leader — at least for the time being.

“What we’ve seen is the president mobilizing the international community in support of Ukraine to isolate Russia for its actions in Ukraine, and to reassure our allies and partners,” said Tony Blinken, Obama’s deputy national security adviser, as he announced the meeting Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Yatsenyuk has vowed not to relinquish “a single centimeter” of his country’s territory. Obama has warned that any vote on secession would violate international law.