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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Belarus wants U.S. to cut diplomatic contingent down to five

RIA Novosti

24/04/2008 15:12 MINSK, April 24 (RIA Novosti) - Belarus has demanded that the United States cut the number of its diplomats down to five, in protest against sanctions against the Belarusian petrochemical company, a U.S. Embassy source said on Thursday.

The Belarusian Foreign Ministry earlier issued a statement saying the U.S. had been asked to further scale down its embassy staff, but did not specify figures. The number of American diplomats in the ex-Soviet country was halved last month.

The source told RIA Novosti said that the ministry had summoned the U.S. charge d'affaires in Belarus, Jonathan Moore, and told him that the ministry wants the embassy to present by April 30 a list of five diplomats who will remain in the country.

Moore warned the ministry that such a step could have serious consequences, the source said.

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 the company.

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.

Earlier this month Belarusian Foreign Minister Viktor Gaisenok asked the U.S. to cut its diplomatic staff to seven, i.e. the ambassador along with six embassy personnel, but Washington has yet to respond.

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

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

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