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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

U.S. embassy in Belarus cuts staff to four

RIA Novosti

02/05/2008 17:53 MINSK, May 2 (RIA Novosti) - Eleven American diplomats are scheduled to leave Belarus May 3 leaving a total of four staff at the diplomatic mission, a spokesman for the U.S. embassy said on Friday.

The former Soviet state earlier this month demanded that the United States cut the number of its diplomats down to five, and expelled 10 diplomats in protest against sanctions against a Belarusian petrochemical company.

"The embassy will work in a routine regime," the spokesman said. Meanwhile, the spokesman added that consular assistance will only be provided to U.S. passport holders, while Belarusians will be able to apply for U.S. visas in other countries.

U.S. State Department spokesman Tom Casey told reporters on Thursday the United States was still considering how to respond to Belarus, but has "not made a decision to formally ask them [Belarus], or informally ask them, to reduce staff further."

"We made it quite clear both here and in Minsk that one of the options being considered was simply to pull our remaining staff out and then require them to do the same," Casey said.

The Belarusian Foreign Ministry summoned the U.S. charge d'affaires in Minsk, Jonathan Moore, on April 30 and handed him a list of U.S. diplomats to be expelled.

The ministry said in a statement published on its website that the U.S. official had been summoned as Washington had failed to respond to a request made by Belarus last week for the U.S. to cut its embassy staff in Minsk to five by April 30.

Until recently, the U.S. employed 38 diplomats in Belarus, while Minsk had 18 staff in Washington. The number of American diplomats in the ex-Soviet country was halved last month.

Tensions between the two countries increased 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 also 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.

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