U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State: The door is open for Belarus

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An OSCE conference is being held in Warsaw now (September 23– October 4). Euroradio has talked to one of its participants, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, at the United States Department of State Thomas Melia.

Euroradio: What do you think about the current state of democracy and human rights in Belarus?

Thomas Melia: The crackdown that came after the presidential election three years ago underscored the difficulties that Belarusians have in presenting alternative political programs.  There was some hope before that presidential election that there would be a more open process. But, the peaceful protests led to very harsh crackdown and the imprisonment of many people. And there remain a small number of people that we and the Europeans consider political prisoners. In order for Belarus to regain its momentum towards democracy, we believe that these people have to be released from prison and restored to all their political rights so that they can participate in public politics. And there is a whole range of things that could happen and we hope would happen in Belarus  to allow people to talk about issues and to move towards more normal European-style politics.

Euroradio: Why is the U.S. Department of State interested in Belarus?

Thomas Melia: Belarus is on the border of the European Union. It is a significant country of 10 million people that could be and should be better integrated into European political and economic structures.  The United States is an unusual and unique country as we take each country on its own terms. We have policies and partnerships with every other country in the world. Belarus has the potential to also be a strong partner. And we’d like it to be that. We’d like to be doing more with Belarus. But, since three years ago we’ve been unable to more forward and build up more partnerships because of the lack of political progress in Belarus.

Euroradio: The next presidential election will be held in Belarus in 2015. Do you have any plans to support the Belarusian opposition and the civil society?

Thomas Melia: We support the process and we don’t pick losers and winners in other countries’ elections. We want there to be a stable and open process in which the citizens of Belarus can chose who should be President.

Euroradio: How do you think, are the Belarusian opposition and civil society able to change anything in the country?

Thomas Melia: The door is open to a greater economic cooperation and greater institutional integration. We are hoping that Belarus will step through that open door. It requires some political changes in order to make it a more open and free country. I think Belarusians will find that they have many friends and supporters in the West that would like to be interacting with them more frequently on a more normal basis.

Euroradio: Moldova and Ukraine have faced Russian pressure while trying to integrate into the EU recently. Belarus has closer relations with Russia. What do you think about it?

Thomas Melia: The Eastern Partnership has been a very important framework for enabling these 6 countries on the eastern border of the EU to move towards greater integration with Europe. We support that and we would like to see all these countries including Belarus to take advantage of the openings to Europe. We are hoping that Ukraine will be able to move forward towards signing their agreement on association with the EU. We are hoping that Moldova and Georgia will be taking steps forward. That will be a reminder that the Belarusian government has this opportunity too. Maybe Belarus will be in a similar position during future summits.

Euroradio: Some experts think that Belarus has made no progress in the Eastern Partnership so far.

Thomas Melia: It’s entirely in the hands of the government of Belarus. They can be moving in the same way as Moldova and Ukraine the others are. The door is open. I think that the choice is clear to all countries of the EaP about what kind of relationship they would have with Russia and the Customs Union. It’s a very different kind of relationship than they would get as an equal partner in an open relationship with the countries of the EU.

Photo: osce.usmission.gov