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Ukraine's foreign minister on Wednesday urged the European Union to look beyond the case of jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko when deciding whether to finalise a deal bringing Kiev closer to Europe.
"We understand the importance of the Mrs Tymoshenko case, but it is even more important that the relationship between 46 million Ukrainian nationals and 500 million European nationals should not depend on any single criminal case," Minister Leonid Kozhara told reporters.
He spoke after talks with his Latvian counterpart Edgars Rinkevics in the capital Riga, where he said Kiev was "quite optimistic" that it would sign the deal at a November summit in Vilnius.
The EU has insisted that Ukraine free Tymoshenko as a precondition for the trade and association agreement, which would open up EU markets to Ukrainian exports and signal a decisive turn towards the West.
Soviet-era master Russia fiercely opposes the deal, as it still sees Ukraine as being firmly within its sphere of influence.
Ex-prime minister Tymoshenko was sentenced in October 2011 to seven years in jail on abuse of power charges in a case seen by the EU as having political overtones.
Her daughter also claimed this year that the former Orange Revolution leader was in urgent need of back surgery.
Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych said last month that he has no legal authority to free Tymoshenko as it is up to the courts to decide, a comment reiterated by Kozhara.
"A positive resolution can be found only on the grounds of the Ukrainian constitution and Ukrainian law," he told reporters on Wednesday.
He added that Tymoshenko needed to express "goodwill" to help resolve her case.
"At this time unfortunately Mrs Tymoshenko refuses to cooperate with the Ukrainian authorities and as an example I can give you that last week Mrs Tymoshenko refused to attend a session of the court."
Kozhara would not comment on a fellow lawmaker's remarks that Yanukovych would not free Tymoshenko before signing the deal.
Lawmaker Hanna Herman told Ukrainian TV channel ICTV on Monday she believed the Ukrainian president would "ease the fate" of Tymoshenko, but only after he signs the EU deal.