Minsk has not received Washington’s response to demand for further embassy staff cut, official says

The Belarusian foreign ministry so far has not received a response to its demand for a further staff cut at the US embassy in Minsk, Andrey Papow, spokesman for the Belarusian foreign ministry, told BelaPAN.

“The Belarusian foreign ministry has no new additional information about a US decision,” Mr. Papow said. “I would not like to go into details and describe our further declarations and intentions. All those statements that we made before still stand.”

He declined to say whether officers with the Belarusian embassy in the United States had returned to Minsk following the Belarusian government’s decision to reduce the diplomatic mission’s staff.

In November 2007, the US Treasury Department announced that any assets found in the USA that belong to Belnaftakhim should be frozen, as the Department had added Belnaftakhim to its list of Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons. The resulting sanctions also barred US citizens from doing business with Belnaftakhim and its offices.

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.

The Belarusian foreign ministry emphatically recommended that US Ambassador Karen Stewart leave Belarus "for the same purpose." The ambassador went away after the Belarusian government had threatened to expel her in retaliation for the US sanctions. "I was not expelled, but they made it clear that that would be the next step if I did not leave," she told reporters later.

Seventeen American officers of the US embassy in Minsk left Belarus in late March in pursuance of a request from the Belarusian authorities that wanted the embassy to cut its staff to the number that the Belarusian diplomatic mission in Washington has.

The Belarusian government announced on March 31 that it would reduce the Washington-based embassy’s staff and suggested that the United States follow suit. Minsk wants the staff of the Belarusian embassy in the United States and the US embassy in Belarus to consist of the ambassador and six more diplomats, Deputy Foreign Minister Viktar Haysyonak said on April 2.

The United States has described the demand as “unwarranted.”