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Top U.S. Official Meets With Belarusian FM In Minsk

Belarusian Foreign Minister Syarhey Martynau met wiith top U.S. official, Daniel Russell

Belarusian Foreign Minister Syarhey Martynau met wiith top U.S. official, Daniel Russell

MINSK -- The U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs has met in Minsk with Belarusian officials and opposition figures, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reports.

Daniel Russel held a two-hour meeting with Foreign Minister Syarhey Martynau after arriving on November 17. During the one-day visit he also met with possible opposition presidential candidates.

Martynau's press secretary, Andrei Savinnykh, said that "the meeting [between the two officials]...centered around questions concerning the development of bilateral Belarus-U.S. relations as well as international issues of mutual concern."

Later in the day, Russel had a meeting with prospective opposition presidential candidates Ales Mikhalevich, Yaraslau Ramanchuk, and Mikalay Statkevich.

"Russel told us that the U.S. position regarding the Belarusian issue has not changed," Mikhalevich told RFE/RL. "A lot of opposition activists are afraid
that the United States has begun to work out a deal with Russia over Belarus. But it seems that this is not so, and such processes are not taking place," he said.

Belarus political analyst Jauhen Jakauleski told RFE/RL that Russel's visit has parallels to recent visits to Minsk by high-ranking European officials such as German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, and Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite.

"When discussing coordination between the EU and U.S. positions regarding relations with Belarus, there might be tactical, but not strategic, differences," Jakauleski said. "And the strategy [of both the EU and the United States] is that democratic values are paramount. Both Sikorski and Westerwelle spoke about [democratic values] during their meetings in Minsk; I'm sure that the U.S. representative will also speak about them -- because human rights have always come first for the U.S. [in Belarus]."

Jakauleski said he thinks that during their meeting on November 17, Martynau and Russel would most certainly have discussed the continuing diplomatic problems between Minsk and Washington -- in the last two years, each respective embassy is staffed with only a handful of employees.

But Jakauleski is not optimistic about a quick resolution to those problems.

"There's no indication that the situation will change imminently," he said. "My sources tell me that the U.S. side will not act until the Belarusian side takes certain steps."

Russel was to meet with some prospective and announced opposition presidential candidates, members of civil society groups who are monitoring Belarus's presidential campaign, and members of the independent media.