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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

NATO in a Dilemma Over Belarus and Ukraine

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- NATO is in a dilemma about the possibility the presidents of Ukraine and Belarus will gatecrash an alliance summit in Prague next week, despite warnings they would not be welcome.

"In each case it would be nice if they decided that they had appointments elsewhere," a senior NATO diplomat said Tuesday.

Both Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko and Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma are entitled to attend the second day of the Nov. 21-22 summit, when leaders from the 46 Euro Atlantic Partnership Council nations will hold a meeting.

But neither is wanted -- Lukashenko because of his autocratic rule and opposition to NATO enlargement and Kuchma because of unresolved questions about a reported sale of an aircraft detection system to Iraq.

"Messages have been passed discreetly to both saying that, for the sake of our relations, it might not be a good idea for you to come," a NATO official said, adding that if they did attend there would be "a lot of empty chairs."

"At the end of the day, I don't expect them to come, but they might force the system," the official said.

The EAPC is a forum for consultation and cooperation between the 19 NATO countries and 27 partner countries.

In Minsk, the Belarussian Foreign Ministry summoned ambassadors from NATO countries to denounce suggestions the country's leaders should stay away.

"Any decision suggesting that a Belarussian delegation should not take part ... would expose the use by NATO of a selective approach to EAPC member states and the continued practice of 'double standards,'" a ministry statement said.

It said Belarus reserved the right to "adjust its position" on international security issues.

A spokesman for Kuchma's administration in Kiev said the Council for National Defence and Security would meet this week to discuss sending the president or his foreign minister to Prague.

Kuchma's chief of staff, Viktor Medvedchuk, said he felt there was no point in participating unless "wrong and baseless allegations" on sales to Iraq were dropped.

The Czech Republic said last week that Lukashenko had applied for a visa.

Czech Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda has since indicated it is unlikely visas for a Belarussian delegation would be granted. A ministry spokesman said there would be a decision in "the coming days."

The Belarussian Foreign Ministry has said it would view a refusal to grant a visa as "a move toward undermining relations."