- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 2, 2009

SECURING FREEDOM

A visiting U.S. congressional delegation Tuesday secured the freedom of an American lawyer imprisoned in Belarus after warning the country’s authoritarian president that he must lift restrictions on human rights if he wants better relations with Washington.

The delegation, led by Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, Maryland Democrat, met with President Alexander Lukashenko earlier in the day and urged him to release Emanuel Zeltser, a Russia-born American citizen convicted nearly a year ago on charges of industrial espionage and carrying fake documents in what Mr. Cardin called a “secret trial.” Mr. Zeltser, a 55-year-old diabetic who was becoming increasingly ill in prison, always maintained his innocence.

“We welcome the release of Emanuel Zeltser on humanitarian grounds,” Mr. Cardin said in the Belarus capital, Minsk. “However, we made it clear to President Lukashenko that the only way to improve the relationship between our countries is for him to increase political freedom and respect for human rights.”

Rep. Christopher H. Smith, New Jersey Republican, added: “All the talking in the world doesn’t change the fact that President Lukashenko must act. The ball is in his court.”

Mr. Smith was the author of the Belarus Democracy Act, which provides funds to Belarus opposition parties.

Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, said Mr. Lukashenko could start improving relations with the United States by allowing the return of the U.S. ambassador and other diplomats he expelled last year.

Mr. Lukashenko kicked out Ambassador Karen Stewart, one of his loudest critics among foreign diplomats in Belarus, in March 2008, and ordered two sharp cuts in U.S. Embassy staff. The embassy is currently functioning with six diplomats, down from 32 last year.

The Bush administration responded with economic sanctions and called Mr. Lukashenko the “last dictator in Europe.”

The delegation from the congressional Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe included Rep. Robert B. Aderholt, Alabama Republican; Rep. Mike McIntyre, North Carolina Democrat; and Sen. Roger Wicker, Mississippi Republican. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, Texas Democrat, also made the trip but is not a member of the commission.

ATTACH STRINGS

Indian Ambassador Meera Shankar wants the United States to guarantee that any military aid to Pakistan will not be used to build up forces against India, its longtime rival in South Asia.

Mrs. Shankar told a forum at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington that New Delhi believes the Obama administration should apply what she called “benchmarks” to ensure that military aid benefits counterinsurgency efforts in Pakistan instead of conventional weapons.

India blames Pakistan for failing to stop terrorist attacks on Mumbai, India’s financial center, in November. The attacks were carried out by members of the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorist group.

“We certainly share the objective of the United States that we should help to stabilize Afghanistan and Pakistan and move them in the direction of both stability and moderation,” she said, according to a report in India’s Hindustan Times.

“As to how best we can pursue the achievement of this objective, well, we support the flow of assistance to Pakistan, particularly economic assistance, which we think is essential at this stage given the very precarious state of Pakistan’s economy.”

Mrs. Shankar, a career diplomat, arrived in Washington in April after serving four years as India’s ambassador to Germany.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison @washingtontimes.com.

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