WASHINGTON (AFX) - Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill will be the first in his post to visit central Asia in the coming week, also stopping in Ukraine and Georgia, in a "relationship-building trip," a Treasury official said.
O'Neill will stop in Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Georgia in an eight-day trip, departing tomorrow, the Treasury said in a statement.
One reason for the stops in central Asia is the importance of these countries to the US from a security standpoint, the official said, noting their contribution to the US war against terrorism.
The result of the war in Afghanistan has been to increase the stability of other countries in the region, she said.
"The focus of this trip is to emphasize the economic side of our relations as important as well," she explained.
O'Neill, who will meet Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma Friday, will not bring up reports about Ukraine helping Iraq obtain weapons technologies, Treasury spokesman Robert Nichols said separately.
The Treasury Secretary will also visit small businesses in the four countries, highlighting their importance to economic development.
Another purpose of the trip is fact-finding in the effort to develop criteria for the Bush administration's proposed expansion of unilateral development aid.
The poverty levels of the countries to be visited could make them potential recipients of the increased aid included in the Bush proposal, which would take US aid levels up to 15.0 bln usd annually by 2006.
The criteria for the aid is to be announced in coming months, perhaps in late September, a Treasury official said.
O'Neill's trip consists of meetings with heads of state, and visits to business and aid locations, Treasury said.
AFX, July 9, 2002