In Minsk, Pompeo Calls For 'Real Progress' In U.S.-Belarus Relations
By RFE/RL February 01, 2020
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called for "real progress" in bilateral relations with Belarus following a meeting in Minsk with Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka.
"We are confident that together we can make real progress across every dimension of our relationship," Pompeo said at a joint press appearance with Lukashenka on February 1.
For his part, Lukashenka told Pompeo it was "very good that you risked coming to Minsk after various misunderstandings between Belarus and the U.S."
Pompeo's historic visit is the first by a U.S. secretary of state to Belarus since Warren Christopher accompanied then-President Bill Clinton to Minsk in 1994.
Former U.S. national-security adviser John Bolton met with Lukashenka in Minsk in August 2019.
Lukashenka added on February 1 that he hoped to "open a new chapter" in relations with the United States.
Pompeo's visit also comes at a time of relief in Belarus as the country learned it will not be included in an expanded version of U.S. President Donald Trump's travel ban after initial reports suggested it would.
Lukashenka, who has been president since the position was created in 1994, has been portrayed in the West as "Europe's last dictator," but he has sought to improve relations with Washington while at the same time recognizing his country's heavy reliance on Russia for energy supplies and funding.
"The secretary will meet with President Lukashenka and Foreign Minister [Uladzimer] Makei to underscore the U.S. commitment to a sovereign, independent, stable, and prosperous Belarus, and affirm our desire to normalize our bilateral relations," the State Department said in a statement before the visit.
Lukashenka has accused Moscow of pressuring his country to merge with Russia, using oil and natural gas supplies as a weapon.
"We have our own country; we're sovereign and independent. With our brains and hands, we earn what we can, we're building our own country. And we can't be a part of some other country," Lukashenka told factory workers on January 24. "I can't betray you and dissolve Belarus, even in the brotherly Russia."
"Even if I agree to that, Belarusians would eat me alive within a year," said Lukashenka.
Pompeo told Makei that the United States was prepared to boost its energy supplies to Belarus.
"Our energy producers stand ready to deliver 100 percent of the oil you need at competitive prices," Pompeo said. "Your nation should not be forced to be dependent on any one partner for your prosperity or your security."
In comments earlier in the day to Lukashenka, Pompeo noted Belarus's "long history" with Russia.
"It's not about picking between the two," Pompeo said. "We want to be here."
U.S. relations with Belarus -- a country of some 10 million people -- deteriorated more than a decade ago when Washington imposed sanctions on Lukashenka following the 2006 Belarusian presidential election on allegations of "human rights abuses related to political repression."
Belarus then recalled its ambassador to Washington and told the U.S. envoy to leave Belarus.
Pompeo told Lukashenka on February 1 that Washington would name a new ambassador to Belarus soon.
On January 31, a U.S. official said that Trump was issuing an expanded version of his travel ban, a decision that could impact thousands of immigrants.
But acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf said that Belarus, which had been considered for inclusion in the expanded list, had taken measures to correct deficiencies lately and will not face visa restrictions.
Nationals of Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, Myanmar, Nigeria, Sudan, and Tanzania will be affected by the partial ban, officials said.
Pompeo arrived in Belarus after stops in London and in Ukraine as part of Washington's efforts to express support for Kyiv in its battle to combat what U.S. officials label as "Russian aggression."
Pompeo's trip will also take him to the former Soviet states of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan before it ends on February 4.
With reporting by RFE/RL's Belarus Service and dpa
Copyright (c) 2020. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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