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Belarusian Ambassador Calls For "Constructive Engagement" With U.S.

(Washington, DC--November 3, 2003) Belarus' new ambassador to the United States told an RFERL audience last week that Belarus would like to see an improvement, or "normalization," in Belarus-US relations. H.E. Mikhail Khvostov suggested that the present U.S. policy of "selective engagement [with Belarus] should be replaced with constructive engagement."

Khvostov said that he believes the problems between Belarus and the United States are based on a "problem of perception." Khvostov reminded the audience that Belarusians, in a 1996 referendum, "approved of strong state power" being used to "introduce all the principles" for transforming that country's socio-economic system and civic society.

"We are not so different than other CIS (former Soviet Union) countries; not so different from other eastern countries," Khvostov said. The ambassador urged Americans to come to Belarus and "see for themselves" what his country has built in the past twelve years: a functioning nation-state with "all branches of government" and the smallest external debt of all CIS countries; a country that holds first place within the CIS in providing maternal and infant care and where retirees have the highest pensions; and an economy which ranks "third among the former USSR, after Estonia and Russia."

Acknowledging that the private sector in Belarus has "not really developed," Khvostov said that Belarus faces the challenge of privatizing industries that employ thousands of workers, such as the tractor factories and petro-chemical plants, who receive social services through the state-controlled management. Khvostov maintained that the "press situation is still better [in Belarus] than in some CIS countries," and that "any NGO and newspapers should go along with the existing way" to avoid problems with government controls. Khvostov added, "And if there is a violation then they should have the result (consequences)."

Maintaining that Belarus was "a good neighbor" and practiced a foreign policy based on mutual respect and cooperation to maintain the stability of the international community, Khvostov denied that Belarus had violated any UN sanctions against Saddam Hussein's regime. "We had simple economic relations" with Iraq "going through the UN Oil-for-Food committee," Khvostov said.