Updated at 16:11,02-12-2016

Lukashenka: Withdrawal of Nuclear Weapons Was Severest Mistake

The withdrawal of nuclear weapons from Belarus was the "severest mistake," Alyaksandr Lukashenka told reporters on Wednesday while staying in the Homyel region.

"I believe that the withdrawal of nuclear weapons from Belarus on those conditions and in the way it was done by our nationalists and [Stanislaw] Shuchkevich was the severest mistake," the Belarusian leader said. "I had to sign that treaty, as I was pinned down: I was under pressure from both Russia and the Americans, [who told me:] You should withdraw them because you promised. But we should not have done that. That was an extremely great asset. That was a valuable commodity that we could have eventually sold for decent money."

Mr. Lukashenka stressed that Belarus had agreed to the withdrawal of nuclear weapons in exchange for leading nuclear powers guarantees of security. "If we had retained those weapons, they would now talk to us in a different way," he said.

According to Mr. Lukashenka, Belarus still possesses enriched uranium, including hundreds of kilograms of weapons-grade and lower enriched uranium. "Ive been told for many years: Move this uranium out of the country. To America if you like. Well pay you. Or to Russia. I say: Why are you dictating to us? This is our commodity. We keep it under the control of the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency]. We arent going to make dirty bombs or sell it to anyone. We use this uranium for research purposes.We once gave up nuclear weapons and what do we have out of that now?"

According to Mr. Lukashenka, he proposed that this issue be resolved at the negotiating table. "We wont allow anyone to dictate to us," he said. "Lets sit down at the negotiating table and decide what to do with this large amount of enriched uranium."

As Mr. Lukashenka said, the United States did not invite him to attend the April 12-13 Nuclear Security Summit in Washington because he refuses to give up the uranium stockpiles. "[They said,] Since you dont want to give up this uranium, we wont invite you to the summit, but I told them, Thanks, but I wasnt going to go there. Even if Belarus had been invited, I wouldnt have gone there," Mr. Lukashenka said.

"This fact [non-invitation] suggests that we shouldnt trust either the Americans or the West in general," he went on saying. "Russia always heard us and understood us. It has never been like that with the West or the USA. There may have been other reasons [for the non-invitation]. They decided not to invite Lukashenka in order not to boost his ratings ahead of the election. [But] Im good enough with todays ratings to get elected president."

"If Russia, Kazakhstan and other CIS states had really been reliable friends, they would have firmly said: Belarus is ours and it should attend the summit. And the Americans would have had nothing to do but agree," Mr. Lukashenka said.

However, "its more pleasant for me to talk to you on the bank of the Prypyats [River Pripet] than to swelter in Washington," he added.