Merkel says EU offer to Ukraine still 'on table'
AFP, Wednesday 18 Dec 2013

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Wednesday she "regretted" Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych's snub of an accord with the European Union for closer ties but said the offer still stood.

"I regret the decision of president Yanukovych not to sign the sweeping association and free trade agreement with the EU, at any rate not to sign it at present," Merkel told parliament, a day before an EU summit.

"But the offer remains on the table," she said, in her first speech since deputies overwhelmingly re-elected her to a third term as chancellor on Tuesday, nearly two months after September elections.

Merkel also indicated that the EU would keep a close eye on a deal sealed between Ukraine and Russia on Tuesday that included Moscow agreeing to buy $15 billion of Ukrainian bonds and slash gas prices.

"We saw yesterday that Ukraine concluded an extensive agreement with Russia. We will check that and look closely," Merkel said.

And she again urged the end of an "either-or" situation, saying it could not be the case that "a country that lies between Russia and the European Union" has to make decisions that are "always understood (to be) either for the one, or for the other".

After weeks of pro-EU protests in Ukraine after Yanukovych's shock decision to ditch the landmark EU partnership accord and seek closer ties with its traditional master Russia, Merkel also urged Kiev to guarantee "reasonable conditions for demonstration rights".

Germany's new foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Tuesday that financial aid offered by the EU to Ukraine to foster closer ties with Europe had been insufficient.

Merkel and Steinmeier will later Wednesday travel to Paris for talks with French President Francois Hollande ahead of the EU summit beginning Thursday in Brussels.