- The Washington Times - Monday, February 14, 2005

Belarus requests U.S. aid

The ambassador from Belarus says his government wants Washington to be engaged with the country in its effort to improve its economy and political and human rights records, even though Washington considers the former Soviet republic an authoritarian regime.

“Our request to the United States is: Just be at the table and discuss the issues. If you are not at the table, you cannot solve the problems,” Ambassador Mikhail Khvostov told our correspondent Desikan Thirunarayanapuram in an interview at The Washington Times.

The United States says Belorussian President Aleksandr Lukashenko, since his election in 1994, has consolidated his powers through authoritarian means, including a 1996 amendment to the nation’s constitution that allowed him two more years in the first term and extended his stay in office by another five-year term through a referendum in 2001.

The United States and the European Union called the referendum flawed. Another referendum in October led to the removal of term limits for the presidency and allowed Mr. Lukashenko to run again in 2006.

In 1996, Belarus provoked a diplomatic crisis by confiscating residences of the U.S. ambassador and other diplomats in the Drozdy housing compound on the outskirts of the capital, Minsk.

The next year, Washington decided to pursue a “selective engagement” policy with the Lukashenko government and downgraded government-to-government contacts to the level of assistant secretary and below.

Mr. Khvostov conceded that the real issue between Washington and Minsk is democracy and human rights, and that bilateral relations may not improve until there is a change of government. However, he said the situation in Belarus is not as bad as in some other former Soviet republics such as Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan.

“We know we have a strong leader. … Politically and economically, we are not a weak country. We know that [the Americans] know that,” he said.

Mr. Khvostov also said Mr. Lukashenko was re-elected by a vast majority of the Belorussian people in a legitimate election.

“We are trying to explain [to Washington officials] that any change we do at home will not alter the established structure of power,” he said.

Mr. Khvostov said the economic situation of Belarus is different from that in other former Soviet states. Belarus has very few oil or natural gas reserves, and its economy depends largely on manufacturing and foreign trade.

“We are a small country. We have our interests, and our interest is not to destroy the economy,” he said, adding that it could take 10 years for a modern market economy to take root in Belarus.

Recall from Nepal

The United States recalled Ambassador James F. Moriarty from Nepal to signal Washington’s displeasure with King Gyanendra for suspending democracy in the Himalayan nation.

“We remain deeply troubled by developments in Nepal,” State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said yesterday. He announced that Mr. Moriarty will return to Washington for consultations and then resume his post.

“King Gyanendra’s dismissal of the government, declaration of a state of emergency, detention of politicians, human rights workers and students, and the suspension of fundamental constitutional rights is a step away from Nepal’s path toward democracy.”

The king fired the government after blaming it for failing to defeat a Maoist revolt. He suspended the multiparty political system established in 1990 and named two former prime ministers as chairmen of an advisory council.

“The king needs to restore and protect civil and human rights, promptly release those detailed under the state of emergency and move quickly toward the restoration of civil liberties … under a constitutional monarchy,” Mr. Boucher said.

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

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