Embassy Row

Article excerpt


Belarus yesterday picked another diplomatic fight with the United States when it attempted to lock the U.S. ambassador out of his residence. The State Department warned Belarus to stop the harassment or face retaliation.

The diplomatic dispute began when workmen in Minsk welded shut gates to one entrance of Ambassador Daniel Speckhard's home. Western news reports from Belarus portrayed the ambassador, his wife and three young children standing outside the locked gates and holding an American flag.

"This concerns me greatly," Mr. Speckhard told Reuters. "If the government wants to lock us out, we will have to leave the country."

The Belarussian government insists it only wants the ambassador to vacate the residence so it can make repairs to utility lines in the area. The government also told 21 other countries to leave their ambassadorial residences by tomorrow for the same reason, Reuters reported.

All of the residences are in a neighborhood called Drozdy, which is also home to President Alexander Lukashenko, the authoritarian leader of the former Soviet republic.

At a news conference earlier yesterday, Mr. Speckhard said, "If diplomats in the Drozdy residences are expelled, this will be the first incident of its kind after the end of the Cold War. We hope that Alexander Lukashenko will correct this situation in time."

In Washington, State Department spokesman James P. Rubin warned Mr. Lukashenko he is risking another diplomatic showdown with the United States.

A representative of the Belarussian Embassy could not be reached for comment.

Mr. Rubin said Belarus is violating the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations and the lease on the property, which is owned by the Belarussian government.

"The residence of an ambassador is inviolable," Mr. Rubin told reporters at the daily news briefing. "The host government is obligated under the convention to take all appropriate steps to protect the residence and to make sure that it is supplied with adequate services.

"The government of Belarus has once again chosen to precipitate a crisis in its relations with the United States and other governments. …