U.S. Official Sees No Interest On The Part Of Belarus To Improve Ties With West

David Kramer, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, told journalists in Minsk on April 25 that Washington has not seen "much evidence" from the Belarusian government to support its recent expressions of interest in improving relations with the West, Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported. Kramer, who arrived in Minsk on April 23, met with opposition politicians, relatives of political prisoners and students, and with Foreign Minister Syarhey Martynau and Natalia Pyatkevich, deputy head of the Presidential Administration. Kramer said he took advantage of these meetings to spell out the "minimum steps" that Washington expects Minsk to take toward better bilateral relations. These steps, Kramer elaborated, include releasing all political prisoners, dropping charges against other opposition activists, allowing the Chornobyl Way demonstration on April 26 to take place peacefully, and allowing the congress of democratic forces in Belarus in May to take place without any problems. "Absent those steps, I fear that relations could deteriorate," Kramer noted. "Under the Belarus Democracy Reauthorization Act that Congress passed [in December 2006] and President Bush signed [in January 2007], we have additional steps we can take to increase the pressure on the government. I hope that won't be necessary, but the ball is in the court of the government of Belarus." JM