U.S. Will Be Reliable Friend of Belarus, New Envoy Says

The Associated Press

MINSK -- The new U.S. ambassador to Belarus said Washington wanted to be a friend to Belarus, despite harsh criticism of Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko, while Lukashenko said he was bolstering relations with countries from Cuba to China in an effort to counter U.S. clout.

"Several days before my departure to Minsk, representatives of the Bush administration at the highest level underlined that the United States will be a reliable friend of Belarus, will stand with Belarus while Belarussians work out how to define the future of their beautiful country," Karen Stewart told reporters Monday upon arrival in Minsk.

Lukashenko, after returning from a Nonaligned Movement summit that brought him together with other U.S. antagonists, said that "Belarus today is creating a so-called 'external arc' in its foreign policy. It leads from Cuba through the countries of Latin America, Africa, the Persian Gulf, Iran, China, Vietnam, Malaysia."

"The United Nations should serve the interests of all states, not just the United States of America," he told reporters. "Together we are capable of not allowing the [UN] to be used as an instrument of settling scores with countries conducting independent policy."

Lukashenko reiterated his accusation that the United States was seeking his ouster and said it would not happen.

The head of Lukashenko's Security Council, who visited Venezuela this month, said Monday that Belarus and Venezuela had reached agreements on arms and military technology sales that would bring Belarus around $1 billion.