WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will not attend a meeting in Ukraine of the OSCE, the European democracy watchdog, the State Department said on Friday, a day after the U.S. expressed disappointment about Kiev’s decision to halt plans for trade and political deals with the EU.
Kerry had been expected to attend a meeting of the 56-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in early December. The United States now will be represented by Victoria Nuland, assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters that Kerry would not attend because of scheduling issues. She was asked whether his decision was related to circumstances surrounding jailed former prime minister and opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko.
“I cannot rule out circumstances,” she said.
Tymoshenko was jailed in 2011 for abuse of office after a trial that Western governments said was political. Former Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski and Irish politician Pat Cox have been trying to secure her release to go to Germany for medical treatment for back problems.
The White House said Vice President Joe Biden called Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich earlier on Friday, telling him “closer integration with Europe offers Ukraine a strategic opportunity to strengthen its democracy and return its economy to prosperity.”
After years of planning, Ukraine said on Thursday it would not sign a trade and cooperation agreement with the EU scheduled for November 29 in Lithuania, saying the decision had been driven by economic reality.
The country of 46 million is heavily indebted and must find more than $17 billion next year to meet gas bills to Russia and debt repayments, including $3.7 billion to the International Monetary Fund.
The deals were seen as an important effort by the European Union to draw former Soviet states more into the fold of Western Europe.
Much like the reaction in Europe, the United States said it too was disappointed with Ukraine’s decision, saying it was “an historic opportunity to cement a European future for its people and demonstrate to international financial institutions and investors its unwavering commitment to democratic reform.”
Reporting by Lesley Wroughton; Editing by Bill Trott and Jackie Frank