BRUSSELS — European Union foreign affairs head Catherine Ashton said Thursday that Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych "intends" to sign an EU association accord, having ditched it only last month under Russian pressure.
Ashton, just back from a two-day visit to Kiev where she saw first-hand massive pro-EU demonstrators, said Yanukovych "made it clear to me that he intends to sign the association agreement."
During her visit Ashton met the president and opposition leaders in the hope of finding a way out of the deepening crisis over the former Soviet country's future.
"What he talked about were the short term economic issues that the country faces," Ashton said of her talks with Yanukovych.
"It's my view that theses challenges . . . can be addressed by support, not only from the European institutions, but [also] by showing that he has a serious plan, signing the association agreement, [which] will help to bring in investment," Ashton said as she arrived for a meeting in Brussels Thursday.
In Kiev Wednesday, Ashton condemned the use of force against "peaceful demonstrations," and urged the government to talk.
"I have come here to help," she said. "In the long discussion I have had with the president he reassured me that he was prepared to engage in dialogue and I urge him to do so.
"He also reiterated his wish to sign the Association Agreement," she added.
The EU has made clear that the Association Agreement, which would mark a major commitment to the West and could lead to EU membership, is still on the table but that its terms can not be renegotiated.