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U.S. Ambassador To Belarus Leaves Post Temporarily

U.S. Ambassador To Belarus Leaves Post Temporarily
Combined Report
The Ambassador of the United States of America to the Republic of Belarus, Karen Stewart, departed the Embassy at 1:00 p.m., Wednesday, March 12, en route to Washington. Ambassador Stewart’s absence is temporary, and she remains the U.S. Ambassador to Belarus, the Embassy said in a press statement.
The authorities in Belarus last Friday urged Stewart, one of the government's strongest critics among ambassadors in Minsk, to return home. The U.S. State Department initially said she would remain in the absence of a formal order to leave. But the Foreign Ministry said it had called on the envoy a second time to return home.
Andrey Popov, a spokesman for the Belarusian Foreign Ministry, confirmed on March 12 that U.S. Ambassador to Belarus Karen Stewart has left the country at the ministry's request. "The departure of the U.S. ambassador took place after Stewart was once again invited to a meeting at the Belarusian Foreign Ministry on March 11, where she was for the second time asked to follow the pressing recommendations of our country's government," Popov said.
The ambassador announced that she would travel to Washington for “short-term consultations” at a meeting with several opposition figures in Minsk on Wednesday, Igor Rynkevich, deputy chairman of the Belarusian Social Democratic Party “Hramada” who attended the meeting, told BelaPAN. Apart from Igor Rynkevich, the meeting was attended by Anatoly Lebedko, Yury Gubarevich, Alena Skrigan, Dmitry Dashkevich, Aleksey Shein and Alexander Kozulin’s daughter, Yulia.
A source in the Embassy told Prime-Tass commenting on the possible period of absence of the Ambassador: “to tackle essential matters it is important that the Ambassador of the U.S. to Belarus be present in Belarus, and Belarus’ Ambassador to the U.S. stay in the United States.” “We hope the Ambassador will return to Belarus as soon as possible.”
U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack on March 12 also confirmed that Stewart is returning to Washington for consultations. "We expect that after her consultations have been completed, she would return to Belarus," McCormack said. He said that the ambassador intended to spend a day or two in Vilnius and "talk to officials" in Brussels on her way back to Washington.
Belarusian officials said they acted in response to what they saw as new sanctions against the national oil products company Belneftekhim.
U.S. officials said that there had been no new sanctions and the U.S. Embassy statement said that U.S. policy remained unchanged. It repeated a call for Belarus to uphold democratic principles and release people Western countries call political prisoners. "Following the unconditional release of all political prisoners, the United States stands ready to explore steps to improve our bilateral relations," it said.
U.S. Ambassador Karen Stewart also stressed that Washington would continue pushing for the release of Alexander Kozulin, explaining that it was Minsk’s reluctance to release the former presidential candidate that had led to deteriorating bilateral relations.
Last week Minsk recalled its ambassador to the United States, Mikhail Khvostov, “for consultations” over sanctions against Belarus’ petrochemical conglomerate, the Belarusian State Petrochemical Concern (Belneftekhim). Mikhail Khvostov was recalled one day after the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued a statement with regard to the applicability of the financial sanctions imposed by the Department against Belneftekhim on November 13, 2007 over human rights abuses.
The Reuters news agency quoted a source close to Belarus' government as saying that the statement "allowed for a broad interpretation of a list of firms linked to Belneftekhim. The Belarusian side viewed that as additional sanctions."
David Kramer, the US assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor, told BelaPAN that the clarification had been issued because Washington's "hopes for the release of Alexander Kozulin" had not materialized.
Sanctions were introduced last year against Belneftekhim, prohibiting Americans from doing business with it and freezing any assets it had under U.S. jurisdiction. But American officials say a note issued last week implied no new punitive measures.


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