Belarus' Lukashenko for dialogue with U.S. despite differences

MINSK, October 24 (RIA Novosti) - Differences on a range of issues between Belarus and the United States must not hamper dialogue where mutual interest is concerned, the hard-line president of the former Soviet state said Tuesday.

Relations between the post-Soviet state and the U.S. cooled in the mid-1990s over the slowdown of reforms and progress toward democracy under Alexander Lukashenko's predecessor and the incumbent president. Washington later dubbed Lukashenko Europe's last dictator and listed Belarus among rogue regimes, along with Iran, North Korea and others.

But receiving credentials from a new U.S. ambassador, Lukashenko, known for strongly worded anti-American rhetoric, signaled an interest in more intensive cooperation with Washington: "Belarus wants an open and constructive dialogue with the United States on the basis of equality, mutual respect and account for one another's interests."

Lukashenko, re-elected to a third term in the March election denounced by international organizations and the opposition at home as fraudulent, said Belarus is open to cooperation with all countries which have good intentions and interesting proposals to make.

Belarusian exports to the U.S. in the first eight months of 2006 stood at $293.7 million, and American imports to the republic at $160.4 million.

The U.S. accounts for around 3% of the country's foreign trade turnover, according the Belarusian president's office. Belarus is subject to the Normal Trade Relations status, or a standardized tax Washington imposes on imports from foreign countries.

That status has been extended for another year, until June 2007, but Minsk would like it to be applied on permanent basis, saying the annual procedure to extend it hinders bilateral trade.

The U.S. is also Belarus' largest investor in terms of charter capital for companies working in the country, which is strategically located between Russia and Europe and is a major transit route for Russian energy resources to Western markets.

"We are simply working to consolidate peace and build a fair world community, where everyone would be able to live well. In that sense, all our partners are equally important to Belarus," the president told foreign diplomats.