I am delighted to be in Belarus and I would like to thank everyone we have met with so far for their very warm welcome and hospitality. This is my first visit to Minsk and I am very impressed. I know Belarus is a proud nation; it has suffered tremendously in the course of two world wars. We stood with you in the second world war, in fact, providing what was called Lend-Lease assistance at the time. Later this afternoon, I am looking forward to visiting the museum of the Great Patriotic War and learning more about the events that took place here in Belarus.
The reason I raise this is because it underscores the importance of having a dialogue on European security issues with Belarus, which is so important in the broad context of European security. The fact that the conflict to the south, in Ukraine still continues is another indication of the need to have greater dialogue and consultations. We certainly very much appreciate the role that Belarus has played in terms of serving as a neutral venue for discussions between Russia and Ukraine. Without a doubt, we have a number of venues where we can discuss pressing security and defense issues with Belarus, including at the OSCE. But there is really no substitute for having a direct bilateral dialogue.
So, today, so far, I have had very constructive and productive discussions with my interlocutors at the Ministry of Defense. We have addressed regional security issues as well as the possibility of accrediting defense attaches between our countries. We discussed also some potential future steps that we could undertake together in terms of greater transparency in our defense relationship.
The U.S. policy towards Belarus has always been built on our steadfast support for Belarus’ independence, sovereignty and its territorial integrity, as well as the aspirations that it expressed for a more prosperous and democratic society. As the Government of Belarus builds on some of the progress that we have seen over the past six months, we also hope to build a foundation for improving our bilateral relations, including in the security and defense arena.
So, I am delighted to be here; I’ve had a series of good meetings, including with the Minister of Defense today. I look forward to maintaining the momentum with the upcoming meetings, including with President Lukashenka tomorrow. With that, I am happy to take your questions.