NEW YORK Ukraine, which is hoping to sign a historic free-trade agreement with the European Union in November, is confident it will resolve the status of jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, Foreign Minister Leonid Kozhara said on Wednesday.
Tymoshenko, the fierce political rival of President Viktor Yanukovich, was jailed for abuse of office in 2011 after a trial that the EU has said smacked of selective justice. The EU has called for her release.
The European Parliament appointed a commission headed by former Polish president Aleksander Kwasniewski and former European Parliament president Pat Cox to report on Ukraine's reform process as well as mediation on her release.
The envoys will make a final trip to Ukraine next month before delivering their report to the European Parliament.
"Our deal with the European Union on the so-called selective justice on Tymoshenko will be resolved by the results of this mission," Kozhara said on the sidelines of the International Economic Alliance Symposium in New York.
Kozhara stressed that the status of what he referred to as the "criminal case" of Tymoshenko was the major obstacle in its relations with the EU.
"We expect that the report by the Kwasniewski/Cox Commission will be positive and it also may set a clear view how Mrs. Tymoshenko's current status can be changed," Kozhara said.
Tymoshenko was sentenced to seven years in jail for abuse of office as prime minister after a trial that she says was a vendetta by Yanukovich. She is receiving treatment for back trouble in a hospital under prison guard.
Kozhara said the Ukrainian government has been ready to settle the problems but that Tymoshenko was not cooperating. An example he cited was her refusal to have a medical exam despite Kwasniewski having urged Yanukovich to release her for medical treatment in Germany.
"Last year the European Parliament adopted a resolution on Mrs. Tymoshenko," he said. "The resolution calls for the Ukrainian government to release Tymoshenko unconditionally. I am absolutely sure Mrs. Tymoshenko cannot be released unconditionally.
"If we want to create legal conditions to release the former prime minister, she must cooperate with the authorities," Kozhara said, noting her health status was still unknown.
Yanukovich assured investors at the IEA on Wednesday that the free-trade agreement would be signed in Vilnius, Lithuania, at an EU summit on November 28-29. It would mark a pivotal shift away from Russia, still Ukraine's biggest trading partner.
Russia has been critical of Ukraine's decision, saying it may be obliged to impose duties on any goods arriving from Ukrainian territory, at a huge financial cost to Ukraine.
Last week, Moody's cut Ukraine's sovereign debt rating by one notch to Caa1 from B3, citing concerns over foreign currency reserves, new debt issuance and potentially worsening ties with Russia.
Standard & Poor's and Fitch on Wednesday also expressed concern about Ukraine's falling foreign exchange reserves and its ability to refinance its debt.
(Reporting By Daniel Bases; Editing by Bill Trott)