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1 May, 2008 20:23

Belarus and U.S. stop short of cutting ties

The U.S. has reportedly reversed a decision to close the Belarusian embassy in Washington and its consulate in New York. However, the State Department says it's considering a full range of options to retaliate against Belarus for expelling most of its emb

Washington is one of the fiercest critics of Belarus's authoritarian regime and is putting pressure on the eastern European state to release political prisoners or face punitive sanctions.

On Wednesday, Belarus ordered most of the U.S. Embassy staff to leave the country within 72 hours.

The diplomatic row between the two countries dates back to 2007 when the U.S. imposed economic sanctions against the Belarusian state oil company “Belneftekhim”.

Authorities in the U.S. froze the firm’s bank accounts there, shut its offices and advised American firms not to co-operate with the company.

At the beginning of March, the U.S. Treasury recommended that sanctions be imposed against any company in which “Belneftekhim” owns 50% or more of the shares. These companies include Belarus’s most important exporters.

The government in Minsk promised retaliatory measures if the sanctions were not lifted.

The U.S. Embassy in Belarus has since reduced the number of their diplomats there to 17.

Political analyst Vladimir Zharikhin says the dispute “is a consequence of growing pressure which the U.S. has put on Belarus since their president Aleksandr Lukashenko was elected in 2006”.  

He says they “don't like his regime and carry out their typical strategy of making others do what they want, what they think is right”.

According to Zharikhin, the U.S. has used all the methods it can, be they economic or diplomatic sanctions.

“Let's not forget last year they cancelled trade with a major Belarusian oil company Belneftekhim, which was selling chemical products to the U.S. Then there was another diplomatic blow – Lukashenko and many other top Belarusian officials were barred from travelling to the U.S.,” he said.

“So tensions were getting harder and harder and that's resulted in this drastic move by Belarus, which was maybe too strong,” he went on.

“Washington has a problem with understanding that a nation should make its own choice, it should not be imposed from the outside,” Zharikhin added.