Minsk keeps insisting on further staff cuts in US embassy

Belarusian side suggested carrying out the Belarusian foreign ministry’s recommendation to reduce the American diplomatic presence in Minsk...

Jonathan Moore, the United States’ charge d’affaires in Minsk, was invited Wednesday to the Belarusian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where it was suggested to him that the US embassy implement the recommendation to reduce its staff, according to the ministry’s press office, BelaPAN reports.

“Owing to the preservation by the USA of sanctions against Belarusian economic entities, which restrict the scope of bilateral relations, and the USA’s denial of a mutually acceptable settlement of the situation, the Belarusian side, under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, suggested carrying out the Belarusian foreign ministry’s recommendation to reduce the American diplomatic presence in Minsk and the Belarusian one in Washington on a parity basis,” the press office said.

Deputy Foreign Minister Viktar Haysyonak said on April 2 that Minsk wanted 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.

He said that some 10 officers at the Belarusian embassy in Washington would soon return to Minsk. He pointed out that the United States should unconditionally lift its sanctions against Belarus’ state petrochemical conglomerate Belnaftakhim.

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 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 had.

Minsk’s demand that the United States further reduce the staff of its embassy in Minsk to seven is unwarranted and unjustified, Tom Casey, deputy spokesman of the US Department of State, said on April 5.