Moscow, 13 November 1996 (RFE/RL) - The president of Belarus says his country may stop the withdrawal of nuclear weapons from its soil unless NATO guarantees its future member states will remain nuclear-free.
President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, addressing the Russian State Duma in Moscow today, said he is concerned that if NATO expands its membership eastwards, the alliance would deploy nuclear weapons in its new member states.
"The withdrawal of the missiles from Belarus must be tied to a requirement that similar weapons would not be located near Belarus' borders," said Lukashenka, referring to Poland, seen as a prime candidate for early NATO membership.
Belarus, which inherited part of Moscow's nuclear arsenal, has already suspended the withdrawal of its 18 remaining long-range nuclear missiles to Russia while demanding compensation.
The missiles were supposed to be transferred to Russia by the end of this year. According to previous reports, the weapons have been dismantled and are no longer a military threat.
About 70 Russian lawmakers, including members of the pro-government Our Home is Russia party and independents, walked out of parliament's 450-seat lower house, the State Duma, in protest shortly before Lukashenka arrived.
The deputies object to Lukashenka's planned referendum in Belarus on November 24 on extending his term in office until 2001 and expanding his already extensive powers.
Lukashenka also proposed holding a joint Belarus parliamentary session with Duma lawmakers to discuss the possible unification of the two countries.