Belarus Calls For a Powerful Block to Counter NATO Enlargement

February 24, 1999 - 0:0
MINSK The president of Belarus, whose neighbor Poland is soon to join NATO, has called for the formation of a powerful bloc to counter the defense alliance. In an interview with Iranian television, broadcast late on Monday by a Belarussian station, President Alexander Lukashenko described NATO's eastward enlargement as aggressive and said it presented an equal threat to his country and to the Middle East. I favor creating a powerful centre of military, political and economic cooperation, which will balance the situation, he said.

Both NATO and the United States will have to deal with this centre. Lukashenko did not say which countries should join such a pact. Television and newspapers said he was referring to Russia, Iran and India among others. He also did not make clear whether his broadside was motivated by possible NATO action in Yugoslavia over Kosovo. Belarus is a close ally of Russia and its opposition to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization echoes Moscow's concerns at alliance plans to accept new members.

Poland is set to join NATO in April along with the Czech Republic and Hungary. All three are former Soviet bloc allies. The television interview was given on the eve of a visit to Belarus by a large group of ambassadors from Persian Gulf and Arab states accredited in Moscow. The visit is due to start on Tuesday, and Lukashenko will meet the envoys today.