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Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko In Washington To Meet President Trump


Ukraine's president is here in Washington on what appears to be a hastily arranged trip. He had only a brief encounter with President Trump, whose administration has been giving mixed signals on its policy toward the region. Ukrainians are nervous about President Trump's efforts to revive relations with Russia and want to make sure that won't come at their country's expense. Here's NPR's Michele Kelemen.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: There clearly was a sense of urgency for the Ukrainians. Petro Poroshenko's official Twitter account says it was important that the Ukrainian president meet Trump before Russian President Vladimir Putin does. Trump and Putin are expected to see each other at an international gathering in Germany next month. But the White House didn't exactly roll out the red carpet for the Ukrainian president. Instead, Poroshenko met with Vice President Pence before a photo op in the Oval Office.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: It's a great honor to be with President Poroshenko of the Ukraine, a place that we've all been very much involved in. And you've been seeing it, and everybody's been reading about it.

KELEMEN: Poroshenko called the U.S. one of the most reliable partners for Ukraine. That's not how his government was feeling at the start of the Trump administration, though, says a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Steven Pifer, now with the Brookings Institution. Pifer says Ukrainians were nervous about Trump who before becoming president suggested that he might recognize Russia's annexation of Crimea and ease the sanctions that were imposed on Russia in response to Russia's aggression in Ukraine.

STEVEN PIFER: Ukrainians are probably feeling more reassured than certainly was the case back in November, December when they were looking at some of the things that candidate Trump had said and had big worries that Ukraine might be thrown under the bus in pursuit of a better relationship with Russia.

KELEMEN: There are still worries, though. Last week, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson raised eyebrows in Congress by suggesting that the administration is not wedded to an internationally negotiated peace plan for Eastern Ukraine, the so-called Minsk agreement.


REX TILLERSON: I wouldn't want to have ourselves handcuffed to Minsk if it turns out the parties decide to settle this through a different agreement.

KELEMEN: Today his spokesperson, Heather Nauert, said the secretary is still committed to the goals of the agreement, a ceasefire and an end to Russia's support for separatists in Eastern Ukraine.


HEATHER NAUERT: That hasn't changed. The only thing that's new about this is the secretary - and I mentioned a minute ago - likes results. So we, the United States, has stood by, and we have watched very little happened with regard to the Minsk agreement.

KELEMEN: As Petro Poroshenko arrived here in Washington, the Treasury Department announced it's adding more names to a sanctions list that it says will stay in effect until Russia abides by the Minsk agreement. Ambassador Pifer says that sends a couple of messages.

PIFER: It was a nice scene setter for Poroshenko's visit to the White House, but it's also part of an effort I believe by the White House to persuade the Congress that congressionally mandated sanctions are not necessary.

KELEMEN: Lawmakers are trying to ramp up sanctions on Russia fearing the White House will let up the pressure on Moscow. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department.

(SOUNDBITE OF TINA BROOKS' "STREET SINGER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.