Belarus: Media Comments by Press Secretary Andrei Popov at MFA Weekly Briefing

Reuters: The Presidential press service reported yesterday that the President and EU representative Xavier Solana had a phone conversation.

Might it be a start of the process of arranging a visit of Mr Solana to Belarus, for it was stated in the press release, in particular, that the parties were expecting to continue discussing the relations between the EU and Belarus?

Popov: You know that the President is so to say the "owner" of this information. He has the right to discuss with international partners any issues, including the ones concerning the dialogue with the European Union.

Time will show what will be the concrete forms of this dialogue. Yet we have repeatedly told our European partners about Belarus' interest in such a dialogue, and everybody is well aware of our position on this issue. I can only use this opportunity to state once again our interest in such a dialogue.

BelaAN: In view of intensification of the cooperation with Europe, the EU, do you expect any visits of Belarusian officials to Europe and European officials to Belarus?

In particular, is the Foreign Minister of Belarus going to visit Brussels?

Popov: You know we have continuously repeated that we prefer the content, not the form. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs on its part has made several comments in this regard.

We in Belarus believe that taking concrete steps by the parties towards each other is of principal importance. What will be the form of such steps is a secondary issue. The main thing is that they should bring concrete results, serve the goal of solving the problems existing in our relations, and, which is of primary importance, contribute to so to say maximizing the benefits in the mutual relations between Belarus and the European Union.

It is enough to say that for the past 8 years, the turnover between Belarus and the EU has increased 15 times. I believe it is of itself quite a solid and very serious reason to say that the European Union has been one of Belarus' priority partners for a long time.

In our opinion, the readiness of Belarus to develop and deepen its relations with the European Union was declared long ago. I am sure it is obvious for any impartial observer and for any of our European partners, who really goes deep into the essence of Belarus-Europe relations. It is clear that we came up with such initiative proposals neither yesterday nor today - it has been a long-standing and consistent line of this country.

As for the expectations, our European partners keep telling us that the upcoming electoral campaign is supposed to become sort of a "test" (a `test for Belarus', as they say). Yet, I believe it will be an equal test for our European partners, a test of impartiality, foresight, political wisdom and maturity, for it is evident that the actions of the European Union taken with regard to this country in accordance with the election scenario will have a serious impact on the whole scope of geopolitical factors in this region. I believe it is obvious for all.

Moreover, the upcoming election will be a test for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. It will be very important to us to see to what extent the OSCE is capable of staying unbiased, impartial, open-minded, and avoiding any pressure from outside.

You must be aware of a number of statements, which were voiced by some representatives of the United States Congress last night. Those assessments could be considered at least as not exact and not very responsible, from our point of view, for in their essence they are just interference in the electoral process and predetermination of the assessments, i.e. possible assessments of the electoral process by the OSCE observers. We would like very much the OSCE observers to take maximum efforts to avoid and not to get under outside pressure of this kind.

ONT: Short-term observers keep arriving in Belarus. How will their work be organized?

Popov: I think you would better put this question to seniors of the Central Commission of the Republic of Belarus for Elections and Republican Referenda.

We have done everything that is required from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to ensure normal and efficient work of international observers. We are ready to do more, if it is necessary.

Ren-TV: Have you received any requests from the OSCE?

Popov: We have quite regular meetings being held at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We proceed from the fact that all the problems arising in the course of the events are being solved to mutual satisfaction of the parties, as I hope.

STV: I have a question with regard to polling stations abroad. How many are there, are there enough of them?

Popov: We have been thoroughly working on electoral issues, on the organization of elections abroad for a long time. As far as we understand, this system did not glitch in the past. We hope everything will be arranged in a proper manner this time as well, during the current electoral campaign.

The polling stations abroad have been arranged, electoral commissions have been formed. Appropriate information is open to public, and is available at our website.

Interfax-West: Is Belarus preparing any interesting proposals for European partners at the investment forum to be held in November 2008 in London?

Popov: The work on preparation of the Belarusian Investment Forum in London and participation of our delegation is underway, it is actively continuing.

I would avoid mentioning anything concrete, at the moment. But we surely and obviously consider this event as a very important one, which we connect serious expectations with.

I would like to stress once again that we are seriously preparing ourselves for this forum. Well, an element of specifics is an element of certain commercial interests.

Simultaneously we are undertaking systematic steps to improve the business climate. I believe there is no need to mention them here: we have repeatedly spoken on this issue.

Polskie Radio: I have a question on the observers. We know that the MFA has invited observers from the CIS and the OSCE. What about individual observers from Azerbaijan, Lithuania and other countries?

Popov: You know that according to the Belarusian electoral legislation, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Central Elections Commission and the President of the Republic of Belarus have the right to invite observers.

People invited by these organs of power, state governance bodies can be considered and are considered as international observers. I am not aware of any other, individual cases, and I am not ready to comment on them.

If representatives of the countries which you have mentioned are members of the missions of observers of the main invited structures, then they are welcome. As far as I know, representatives of EU member states are part of the OSCE mission.

Russian Koreans: Have all the observers that were invited by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs arrived yet?

Popov: We are not responsible for individual decisions of each observer. We proceed from the fact that all those who wanted to come and take part in the observation process, have arrived in this country. We as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs have undertaken all necessary steps in this regard.

Interfax-West: Has any OSCE representative been denied a visa?

Popov: You might have heard some statements, including the ones by Belarus' highest authorities, that this year we are striving for making the observation process unprecedentedly transparent, to a maximum extent, so to say, acting to a maximum extent to meet the desires of our Western partners. I believe it explains everything, and Belarus' leadership has repeatedly spoken on this matter.

Even those representatives, who had certain problems with complying with the Belarusian legislation in the past, will have an opportunity to participate in the election observation process.

Russian Koreans: I would like to have it specified, if I can.

Have the points you mentioned with regard to the OSCE and interference in the electoral process been raised during the meeting of the Minister of Foreign Affairs with different observers?

Popov: In my view, unacceptability of interference in the electoral process is an axiom. They are naturally a part of our position, and it is not important at what level this position is voiced and informed.



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