- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 1, 2000

Belarus retaliation?

The State Department has warned Belarus not to persecute opposition politicians who visited Washington last week.

But Belarussian Ambassador Valery Tsepkalo yesterday said the United States has misinterpreted the remarks of President Alexander Lukashenko.

State Department spokesman Philip Reeker was responding to reports that Mr. Lukashenko threatened to retaliate against the political delegation and called the opposition politicians a security threat.

He claimed the delegation was seeking money in the United States to overthrow his government, according to news reports from Belarus.

Mr. Reeker on Tuesday said: "Any retribution against these individuals because of their meetings in Washington would be a serious mistake, and in the lead-up to elections later this year, would further set back efforts to restore legitimate, democratic process in Belarus.

"We urge the Lukashenko regime to end the political crisis in Belarus through a true dialogue with the opposition resulting in free and fair elections."

The United States supports the opposition in rejecting the results of a 1996 referendum that dissolved parliament, expanded Mr. Lukashenko's powers and extended his term in office.

Mr. Tsepkalo told Embassy Row he plans to meet with the State Department tomorrow to discuss its criticism and explain that Mr. Lukashenko was misquoted.

"We are trying to explain all the time to the State Department," he said.

Mr. Tsepkalo said he "didn't know the origin" of the threatening remarks attributed to Mr. Lukashenko.

The ambassador said Mr. Lukashenko held a "political dialogue with political parties" this week, although the opposition delegation did not attend.

"He invited the political opposition to meet with him," Mr. Tsepkalo said.

The ambassador said Mr. Lukashenko disagreed with the opposition's tactics of trying to seek political support in the United States.

The State Department has regularly denounced Mr. Lukashenko's government over human rights abuses.

The opposition politicians held meetings here with officials at the State Department and National Security Council, as well as leading members of Congress.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms pledged his support for the delegation after meeting with the Belarussian politicians.

He said he will sponsor legislation to provide U.S. financial support to democratic and civic groups in Belarus.

Not pressuring Taiwan

The unofficial U.S. envoy to Taiwan insists the United States will not pressure the country to accept China's conditions for bilateral talks.

"We will support any arrangement that is voluntarily agreed to by both sides," said Raymond Burghart, director of the American Institute in Taiwan.

Mr. Burghart's comments this week were an attempt to calm Taiwanese concerns that Washington would join Beijing in demanding that Taiwan agree that it is an inseparable part of one China before opening talks aimed at reunification. Taiwan's new president, Chen Shui-bian, has offered to meet Chinese leaders, but he refuses to agree to any precondition for the talks.

Mr. Burghart, in an unofficial capacity, serves to represent U.S. interests in Taiwan even though Washington has no diplomatic ties with the country.

Slovenia's case

The new ambassador from Slovenia made his country's case for NATO membership when he presented his diplomatic credentials at the State Department.

Ambassador Davorin Kraun told Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott that Slovenia is "actively preparing itself for full membership in the Euro-Atlantic alliance."

He said he hopes NATO will invite Slovenia to join at its next summit in 2002.

Mr. Talbott said the United States supports Slovenia's efforts to prepare for membership in the alliance.

Mr. Kraun is the third Slovenian ambassador to the United States since the country declared independence from Yugoslavia nine years ago.

He is a former deputy prime minister, foreign minister and economics minister.

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