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Germany stressed Tuesday that the fate of jailed Ukrainian opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko would have a decisive impact on Kiev's ambitions for closer ties with the European Union.
Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle told reporters after talks with his Ukrainian counterpart Leonid Kozhara that negotiations were ongoing to secure Ukrainian permission for the ailing Tymoshenko to receive medical treatment in Germany.
He said Berlin had a "major strategic interest" in Ukraine signing an Association Agreement with the 28-member bloc this year but said progress in the areas of justice and the rule of law was decisive.
"We have made clear that there are three criteria to be fulfilled and in two of them Ukraine has already made significant progress," Westerwelle said.
"In the third area, namely avoiding the appearance of selective justice, we are still in discussions. We have a mutual, shared interest in paving the way toward (signing) the Association Agreement in November."
Westerwelle said Tymoshenko's case had "particular symbolic power" and Germany believed that the precarious state of her health made resolving the issue "especially urgent".
The seven-year jail term handed to Tymoshenko on abuse of power charges in 2011 has severely harmed Ukraine's relations with the EU and is holding up the signing of the Association Agreement.
Ukraine has set its sights on joining the EU and such an agreement would be a first formal step on the road to membership.
Kozhara said he was aware of reports from Tymoshenko's daughter that the firebrand former 2004 pro-democracy Orange Revolution leader was in urgent need of surgery on her back but said they could not be independently verified.
He insisted Kiev had limited influence over a criminal case.
"We notice that the approach to this issue is different in Ukraine and the European Union," he said. "In Ukraine, this issue can only be resolved in the judicial context."
On a visit to Kiev last month, Westerwelle renewed Germany's offer to treat Tymoshenko for her health problems in Berlin, which he repeated Tuesday.
Tymoshenko has insisted her imprisonment was ordered by President Viktor Yanukovych in a bid to eliminate a dangerous opponent from political life ahead of 2015 presidential polls.