The U.S. is ready to exchange ambassadors with Belarus, said a top-ranking State Department official on Tuesday, a step that comes after a decade of tensions between the two nations.
“It is my honor to announce that we are prepared to exchange ambassadors as the next step in normalizing our relationship,” Undersecretary for Political Affairs David Hale said in a statement delivered in the capital city of Minsk.
The United States has not had an ambassador to Belarus in 11 years, ever since the Belarusian government expelled the ambassador and 30 out of 35 US diplomats in 2008, CNN informs.
Two years earlier, the U.S. sanctioned Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and a number of other officials after the presidential election in the country that the State Department said “violated international norms and was neither free nor fair.” The sanctions were extended by President Donald Trump in mid-June.
Sanctions on nine state-owned entities were lifted by the U.S. after Belarus released several political prisoners, and Hale noted Tuesday that “further erasing of sanctions” could be discussed if the country continues on its path to democracy.
“There are still aspects of the Belarus Democracy Act with which the Belarusian government needs to contend, and the upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections represent an opportunity to address the spirit of the concerns outlined in the Belarus Democracy Act,” he said.
The U.S. embassy said that Hale likewise met with opposition and civil society leaders in Minsk “to express America’s enduring commitment to human dignity and fundamental democratic principles.”
He also stressed that the U.S. “remains committed to a sovereign, independent Belarus with a prosperous future for the next generation” and “welcomes Belarus’ increased cooperation on issues of non-proliferation, border security, economic cooperation, and information sharing on matters of shared security.”
However, despite the politically strategic position Belarus has as Russia’s neighbor, the U.S. pointed out that the thawing of relations between the two countries does not mean the U.S. is asking Belarus “to chose between East and West”.
“The United States respects Belarus’ desire to chart its own course and to contribute to peace and stability in the region,” Hale said.