Lukashenko Wants NATO Deal US Out of Europe

MINSK (Reuter)Hard-line Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko urged NATO Tuesday to conclude a separate treaty with his country and said a new "European order" should be established without the United States.

"We are observing with interest developmen’s in the dialogue between NATO and Russia– but Belarus’ national interest also should be taken into account," Lukashenko told a gathering of Minsk policemen.

"I propose direct talks with NATO’s leadership to sign a bilateral treaty between NATO and Belarus in the future," added Lukashenko–who once called the alliance a "dreadful monster."

The statement–broadcast live on state-run radio–showed a shift in Lukashenko’s attitude toward talks with NATO–which intends this summer to invite some former communist countries in central and eastern Europe to join its ran’s.

Lukashenko–who wants much closer ties with Russia–shares Moscow’s hostility to NATO’s eastward expansion. However Russia is now focusing its efforts on clinching an accord with the Atlantic alliance to guarantee its security once NATO expands.

In his speech Tuesday–Lukashenko said his former Soviet republic of 10 million also wanted to be anchored within any new European security framework.

"It’s impossible to isolate Belarus. Belarus belongs to the fifteen biggest European states," Lukashenko said.

"We and only we–as members of the European family–can and must establish order in our own home without the participation of leaders from across the ocean," he added.

Last week the US State Department accused Belarus of failing to uphold democracy and human rights and announced it was halting all US aid to Minsk. The Belarus leadership said Washington’s attitude was based on a lack of information.

Lukashenko has also been under fire from the European Union and bodies like the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe since a referendum last November authorized him to take broad powers and rewrite the constitution.

The Council of Europe said Belarus’ new constitution failed to meet minimum standards of human rights.

Belarus–like Russia–is a member of NATO’s Partnership for Peace program but has not taken part in joint military maneuvers or in officer exchanges with the alliance.

Foreign Minister Ivan Antonovich said last week that this was due to a lack of financing.

Last year Belarus and Russia agreed to set up a "community" but there have been few concrete steps towards closer integration since then.

On Thursday Yeltsin is expected to raise the issue of joint referendums on closer ties during his annual address to the Russian parliament.

Lukashenko will hold talks with Yeltsin in the Kremlin Friday.

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