US embassy complies with staff reduction request

The Minsk-based US embassy has complied with the Belarusian government’s request and reduced its staff, the Belarusian foreign ministry’s press office said, BelaPAN reports.

Jonathan Moore, the US charge d’affaires in Belarus, told Belarusian foreign ministry officials on March 24 that the embassy had cut its staff to the number that the Belarusian diplomatic mission in Washington has in pursuance of Minsk’s request.

US Ambassador Karen Stewart said last week that Minsk wanted equal numbers of diplomats working at the US embassy in Minsk, where there were about 35 staff, and in the Belarusian embassy in Washington, which employs about 20.

While talking to reporters in Minsk on March 20, Andrey Papow, spokesman for the Belarusian foreign ministry, said that “it is necessary to equalize the levels of diplomatic presence on a parity basis,” which means that the USA’s diplomatic presence in Belarus should match that of Belarus in the United States. “The Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, in particular Article 11 of this document, gives us such an opportunity in full measure. That is why this demand of the Belarusian side is well-founded,” Mr. Papow said.

Ms. Stewart left Belarus on March 12 under pressure from the Belarusian government. She told The Associated Press that she had returned to Washington after the government had threatened to expel her in retaliation for the US sanctions against Belarus’ petrochemical conglomerate Belnaftakhim. «I was not expelled, but they made it clear that that would be the next step if I did not leave,» she said.

Minsk recalled its ambassador to the USA, Mikhail Khvastow, on March 7 «for consultations» after the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control issued a statement with regard to the applicability of the sanctions, which were imposed by the Department as far back as November 2007 over human rights abuses.

The sanctions included freezing any assets under US jurisdiction belonging to Belnaftakhim and barring US citizens from doing business with Belnaftakhim, and applied to its offices in Germany, Latvia, Ukraine, Russia and China, and its US subsidiary identified as Belneftekhim USA, Inc.