KIEV, Ukraine, July 21 (UPI) -- U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden expressed support for Ukraine's efforts to join NATO following a meeting Tuesday with Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko.
"I come to Kiev, Mr. President (Yushchenko), with one simple, straightforward message that I don't want anyone to misunderstand," Biden said. "That is, the United States is committed to a strong, democratic and prosperous Ukraine."
Biden told Yushchenko the United States considers Ukraine vital to efforts to advance stability and democracy in Europe.
The U.S. vice president said the Obama administration supports Ukraine's right to chart its own path. "We do not recognize -- and I want to reiterate it -- any sphere of influence," Biden said in a statement. "We do not recognize anyone else's right to dictate to you or any other country what alliances you will seek to belong to or what relationships you -- bilateral relationships you have."
Biden is traveling to the Ukraine and Georgia this week to demonstrate U.S. support for continued democratic and economic reforms and discuss steps to deepen U.S. partnerships with the two countries, the White House said.
Biden and Yushchenko met for just over an hour and a half Tuesday afternoon inside the Ukrainian presidential compound.
Following their public statements, Biden and Yushchenko traveled to the Holodomor Memorial, which commemorates millions of Ukrainians who died in a Stalin-era famine. The two men shoveled soil onto a half-planted tree then walked to the main memorial, where they were greeted by women in traditional dress and handed a pot with flowers, wheat and a candle. The men placed the pots at the base of a bronze statue of a young, undernourished girl.