WASHINGTON - The United States has held off on joining Britain and Canada in imposing sanctions on Belarus in hopes the European Union can overcome an internal dispute, paving the way to coordinated U.S. and EU sanctions, four sources said on Wednesday.
The EU had vowed in August to impose sanctions on Belarus for alleged fraud in its August 9 election and for human rights abuses since, but Cyprus, one of its smallest members, has prevented this.
Cyprus has maintained it will not agree to the Belarusian sanctions unless the EU also puts sanctions on Turkey because of a separate dispute over Turkish drilling for oil and gas in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Six sources told Reuters last week that Britain, Canada and the United States planned to impose sanctions on individual Belarusians in a coordinated move. Only London and Ottawa followed suit on Tuesday.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, three sources on Wednesday said Washington refrained because it believed the EU might achieve consensus at this week's European Council meeting.
One source in Washington familiar with the matter told Reuters that a U.S. package, including human rights sanctions, was essentially ready, but the timing of any announcement was uncertain.
The sanctions aim to impose consequences for the disputed election, which the opposition says was stolen, and for the treatment of protesters in Belarus, where President Alexander Lukashenko has ruled for 26 years.
More than 12,000 people have been arrested since Lukashenko, who denies electoral fraud, was named the election's landslide winner. Major opposition figures are either in jail or in exile.
A Cyprus source said there was a "political agreement" on Turkish sanctions at an informal EU foreign ministers' meeting in Berlin in August and Cyprus remained ready to implement it though it was not clear precisely what the source meant.
"It's not a question of softening or hardening of [Cyprus'] position," the source said.
After the meeting, Germany's foreign ministry said ministers agreed on their "solidarity with Greece and Cyprus" but stressed that constructive dialog with Turkey was vital to resolve "contentious issues in the eastern Mediterranean."
The embassy of Cyprus in Washington, the White House and the State Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment.