U.S. delegation meets relatives of Belarusian political prisoners

“Improvement of relations between the United States and Belarus is dependent on improving the human rights situation and standards of democracy in Belarus,” Radio Liberty’s Belarus service said quoting Thomas Melia, Deputy Assistant Secretary from Department of State, who spoke at a press conference on the results of the official visit of the United States government interagency delegation to Belarus.

Answering journalists’ questions, the delegation participants said that the delegation arrived in Minsk to explore opportunities to further improve the interaction. They expressed hope that “the next presidential election in Belarus will be transparent, and it will be observed by both local and international observers”.

Representatives of the United States government noted that at all meetings with representatives of the authorities and the opposition they said that the Belarusian authorities must comply with certain standards of human rights and democracy, and without this improvement in relations with the United States is impossible.

Members of the delegation said that the visit could be seen as a restoration of dialogue between the two countries. Answering the question of Radio Liberty whether any other meetings would be planned, as both sides said they were interested in continuing the dialogue, Mr. Melia said that the American authorities welcome expansion of contacts with the Belarusian authorities.

“We hope to meet with the representatives of Belarus in several international fora: the UN General Assembly in New York, at the OSCE meeting on human dimension in Warsaw and the annual foreign ministers’ meeting in Switzerland in December,” said Melia.

American officials said that at the meeting in the Foreign Ministry of Belarus they once again raised the issue of political prisoners and said that the existence of political prisoners prevented the establishment of normal relations.

According to Melia, representatives of the Belarusian Foreign Ministry still referred to political prisoners as “so-called political prisoners”.

During the press conference, the officials also touched upon the Ukrainian problem. Mr. Melia, in particular, said: “We are pleased that the Belarusian authorities have not gone so far as to recognize the annexation of the Crimea by Russia. We express our satisfaction with the fact that Minsk agreed to host a meeting to find ways to solve the Ukrainian conflict.”

The United States interagency delegation has been on a visit to Minsk from 8 to 11 September 2014. It includes Paige Alexander, Assistant Administrator of USAID; Thomas Melia, Deputy Assistant Secretary from Department of State; and Evelyn Farkas, Deputy Assistant Secretary from Department of Defense.

The delegation met with representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Education and Ministry of Economy, the diplomatic corps, civil society, business community and relatives of political prisoners.

“We explored opportunities for broadening bilateral cooperation with Belarus in areas of mutual interest. In our meetings, we emphasized long-standing U.S. concerns regarding respect for human rights and democratic norms, which are essential for a secure, safe, and prosperous Belarus.  The United States hopes for on-going engagement with Belarus to expand bilateral dialogue.  At the same time, we continue to address the priority issues of enhancing democratic standards and supporting civil society,” said a statement of the United States Embassy in Belarus.

 

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Other political prisoners