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Belarus advises U.S. to reduce embassy staff to seven - ministry

RIA Novosti

02/04/2008 14:21 MINSK, April 2 (RIA Novosti) - Belarus has cut its diplomatic staff in its embassy in the U.S. to seven and is advising the U.S. to follow suit, a deputy Belarusian foreign minister said Wednesday.

"We would like to bring our diplomatic missions to an equal number - in line with the one plus six formula," Viktor Gaisenok said, adding that 1+6 means an ambassador and six other embassy personnel.

Belarus's Foreign Ministry announced Monday it would be making additional cuts to its embassy staff in Washington and urged the United States to do the same. The ministry summoned the U.S. charge d'affaires in Belarus, Jonathan Moore, to deliver the official note.

Belarus recalled its ambassador earlier in March for consultations and demanded that the U.S. cut by half the number of embassy staff in Belarus. The U.S. agreed.

Until recently the U.S. employed 38 diplomats in Belarus, and Minsk had 18 diplomatic staff in Washington.

Tensions between the two countries heightened after Washington imposed sanctions last November against Belarus's state-controlled petrochemical company Belneftekhim and froze the assets of its U.S. subsidiary. American companies were banned from dealing with it.

Gaisenok also said: "I would like to say that full and unconditional lifting of economic sanctions against Belneftekhim is the only basis now for further talks between Belarus and the U.S."

The U.S. and the European Union have accused Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko of clamping down on dissent, stifling the media and rigging elections. Lukashenko, who was re-elected to a third term in 2006, and other senior Belarusian officials have been blacklisted from entering the U.S. and EU.

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