Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy has insisted that relations between Kiev and Washington are stronger than ever despite his country's central role in the impeachment trial of his US counterpart Donald Trump.
After talks in Kiev on Friday, US secretary of state Mike Pompeo said Washington's support for Ukraine would "not waver" and that Mr Zelenskiy would receive a White House invitation when there was "an appropriate opportunity".
He denied again that Mr Trump had made such an invitation to Mr Zelenskiy – along with almost $400 million (€362 million) in US military aid – conditional on Ukraine announcing an investigation into senior Democrat Joe Biden and his son Hunter, who served on the board of a Kiev-based gas firm.
Those allegations are at the heart of Mr Trump’s impeachment trial in the US Senate, which came about after a whistleblower in US intelligence raised concerns about a phone conversation between the US and Ukrainian presidents last July.
Support and defence
Mr Trump says the call was "perfect" and the funding was eventually disbursed. The delay unnerved Ukraine, however, as it banks on US support in a conflict with Russia that has claimed some 14,000 lives since spring 2014.
When asked whether the impeachment scandal had tainted Ukraine-US ties, Mr Zelenskiy said: “Honestly, to me it seems to be the opposite. There are very good relations between our countries. The US really supports and defends us.”
He also urged US firms to invest in Ukraine and said he hoped Washington “would become even more actively engaged in the peace process in eastern Ukraine and in the de-occupation of Crimea”, which Russia annexed in 2014.
Standing with Mr Zelenskiy, a former comedian who swept to power last year on promises to end the war and crush corruption, Mr Pompeo described Ukraine as a “bulwark between freedom and authoritarianism in eastern Europe”.
"Today I'm here with a clear message: the United States sees that the Ukrainian struggle for freedom, democracy and prosperity is a valiant one. Our commitment to support it will not waver."
He also dismissed a question over whether the Ukrainian leader had to do something for Mr Trump to secure a White House invitation.
“No, there’s no condition . . . for President Zelenskiy to come to Washington and have that visit,” Mr Pompeo said. “We’ll find the right time. We’ll find the appropriate opportunity.”
Mr Zelenskiy said he should visit the White House for important talks or to sign a major deal between the US and Ukraine: “And then I’m ready to go tomorrow.”
Mr Pompeo declined to say whether he would mention unsubstantiated claims against the Bidens when discussing Ukraine’s fight against graft.
“I don’t want to talk about particular individuals,” he said. “It’s a long list in Ukraine of corrupt individuals and a long history there.”