Belarus leader calls for 'new page' in relations with U.S.

By RIA Novosti,

Minsk : Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko expressed hope on Wednesday that his country and the United States could write a new page in bilateral relations.

"Through joint efforts we could bring Belarusian-U.S. relations to a level that meets the interests of the people of both countries," Lukashenko said in a birthday note sent to U.S. President Barack Obama, who turns 49 on Wednesday.

The past few years have seen the development of poor relations between the two countries.

In 2007, Washington imposed sanctions against Belarus's state-controlled petrochemicals company Belneftekhim and froze assets of its U.S. subsidiary, adding to travel bans and asset freezes for senior officials including President Alexander Lukashenko introduced in 2006 over human rights abuses and a lack of democracy.

In response, Belarus expelled the U.S. ambassador in Minsk and recalled its ambassador from the United States, saying Washington must cut the number of its embassy employees.

Lukashenko, once dubbed by Washington "Europe's last dictator," said last year his country was ready to restore diplomatic relations with the United States once the sanctions are lifted.

However, Barack Obama extended sanctions against Belarus for another consecutive year on June 9, saying that despite certain improvements in the political climate in the ex-Soviet state, "serious challenges remain."


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