Friday, May 02, 2008

Belarus May Close US Embassy

This piece ran in today's Russian daily online news site Kommersant. I know one of the folks facing being PNG'd, so I am particularly interested. But if you read the Associated Press article this piece quotes, you might decide that it has overstated it slightly.

Belarus May Close U.S. Embassy

The U.S. State Department has demanded that Belarus close its embassy in Washington and consulate in New York. An anonymous Associated Press State Department source said that the U.S. embassy in Minsk will be closed as well. The Americans want the Belarusians out of their premises there by May 16 and promise to have their Minsk embassy closed by May 2.

State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey officially denied that the U.S. administration has decided to close the American embassy in Minsk or demand the closure of the Belarusian embassy and consulate. Casey said that a “full range” of responsive measures were being considered, but no decision has been made yet.

Two days ago, the Belarusian Foreign Ministry informed the U.S. charge d'affaires in Belarus Jonathan Moore that the staff at the Belarusian embassy in Washington would be reduced to six people on April 30, as the U.S. had been advised of in advance. Because of the Americans' refusal to follow the Belarusian Foreign Ministry's recommendation to cut its Minsk embassy staff accordingly, Moore was given a note by the Belarusian Foreign Ministry and a list of American diplomats that were being declared personae non gratae.

Relations between Belarus and the U.S. have been tense since the U.S. imposed additional economic sanctions on the Belneftekhim enterprises last autumn. The U.S. State Department froze the Belarusian state corporation's financial accounts and prohibited U.S. companies to do business with it after Belarusian authorities refused to release opposition members from prison. The current tensions, with the recall of the ambassadors, is due, however, to the State Department's explanation of its decision to impose sanctions on companies controlled by Belneftekhim.

Here is an excerpt from the AP piece. You can read the entire piece here:

US warns Belarus on embassy closure

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The United States has warned Belarus that it may order its embassy in Washington and consulate in New York closed, and shut down the U.S. Embassy in Minsk in an escalating tit-for-tat diplomatic spat, officials said.

The State Department was poised to announce those steps on Thursday but the decision was abruptly put off just minutes before Belarus was to be informed they were being taken in retaliation for the expulsion of most of the U.S. embassy staff in Minsk, the officials said.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, said Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte had signed off Wednesday on the decision to close the Belarusian missions in the United States and the U.S. Embassy in Belarus. Only Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has the authority to reverse such an order.

The moves were delayed to give Belarus time to consider reversing the expulsions, the officials said. The change in plan came so late that the top U.S. diplomat in Belarus, Charge D'Affaires Jonathan Moore, was already at the Foreign Ministry in Minsk to make the notification when he was told to stand down, according to three State Department officials.

Whether we have warned them or made the decision, I can't say (though I admit I am more inclined to go with the AP version). Either way, I know the folks in Minsk are a bit stressed about having 72 hours to get out (no way they are taking all of their belongings with them). Somehow I don't think this is what Americans have in mind when they think of our cushy lifestyle.

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