Biden Orders U.S. to Develop ‘Options’ for Belarus Response
(Bloomberg) -- President Joe Biden said he applauded European Union efforts to impose economic sanctions against Belarus over the forced landing of a Ryanair Holdings Plc jetliner and the arrest of a dissident journalist, and had ordered his team to “develop appropriate options” to hold those responsible accountable.
The “removal and arrest of Raman Pratasevich, a Belarusian journalist traveling abroad, are a direct affront to international norms,” Biden said in a statement Monday night, adding that the U.S. condemned the act “in the strongest possible terms.”
European Union leaders hours earlier asked the European Commission to propose that Belarus officials be added to an existing sanctions list, as well as to develop broader measures to penalize entire sectors of the country’s economy. The sanctions could target the financial interests of President Alexander Lukashenko and his close relatives and associates, as well as businesses, according to a EU official who described the effort on the condition of anonymity.
The plane was traveling between two member states of the union, Greece and Lithuania.
Biden added in the statement that he welcomed the demand for sanctions and had “asked my team to develop appropriate options to hold accountable those responsible, in close coordination with the European Union, other allies and partners, and international organizations.”
U.S. trade with Belarus amounted to only about $112 million in 2020, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Separately, White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan spoke Monday with the exiled Belarus opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya.
“Mr. Sullivan made clear that the United States, in coordination with the EU and other allies and partners, will hold the Lukashenko regime to account,” NSC spokeswoman Emily Horne said in a statement.
Lawmakers on Capitol Hill Monday urged Biden to direct the Federal Aviation Administration to prohibit U.S. aircraft from entering Belarus air space after the episode, in which a jetliner on an Athens to Vilnius flight with Pratasevich aboard was forced to land in Belarus.
“In an effort to keep passengers and crew safe, we urge you to prohibit all U.S. airlines from entering Belarusian airspace, and encourage our allies and partners to do the same,” Senate Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, and Senator Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, wrote in a letter to Biden.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a statement on Monday night that the Transportation Department and the Federal Aviation Administration “are working closely with the State Department and other U.S. agencies to understand precisely what happened, and what actions may need to be taken to keep the flying public safe.”
Lukashenko has been the leader of Belarus since shortly after the country declared its independence from the crumbling Soviet Union in 1991. He enjoys broad support from the Kremlin and the Pratasevich episode could throw doubt into plans for a summit between Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin. That meeting could come as soon as next month, around Biden’s scheduled visits to the U.K. and Belgium for gatherings of the G7, EU, and NATO, and would likely be held in Geneva, NBC News reported Monday.
But White House press secretary Jen Psaki suggested earlier in the day that Russian backing for Belarus would likely not wreck a possible summit, pointing out that Sullivan and Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev held a planning call earlier in the day. Psaki said the U.S. would not “hold back on areas where we have concern” if the meeting materialized.
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