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Belarus leader tells Trump adviser he wants to reset ties with the U.S.

FILE PHOTO: Belarus' President Alexander Lukashenko speaks during a news conference in Minsk, Belarus February 3, 2017. REUTERS/Nikolai Petrov/BelTA/Pool

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko told U.S. national security adviser John Bolton in talks in Minsk on Thursday that he wanted to reset ties with Washington, TASS news agency reported.

Bolton is the most senior U.S. official in years to travel to Belarus and his trip may irk Moscow, which traditionally sees the former Soviet republic as its sphere of influence.

“Despite all the noise around your visit, there is a lot of positive (in it) particularly for Belarus,” Lukashenko was quoted as saying.

“The positive is that...after the worsening of relations with the United States we consistently proposed closing this bad page and turning over a new leaf,” Lukashenko said.

Lukashenko has been at odds with the West for years over Belarus’ human rights record and crackdown on political dissent. He has described himself as the “last dictator in Europe.”

Ahead of the trip, Bolton told reporters in Moldova on Thursday that he planned to warn Lukashenko of the security threat posed to Belarus by Russia.

“...we thought that in light of the things we’ve heard from Moscow that it’s important to go to Belarus and talk about their sovereignty and territorial integrity,” he said.

Belarus and Russia have formally been in a largely symbolic union state since the 1990s, but have said they are currently holding talks to expand that integration, a process that has fueled concern about a quiet annexation by Moscow.

Russia views Belarus as a buffer between its western border and Europe as ties with the West have sunk to post-Cold War lows, but it denies there is anything untoward with its union state project and says Belarus is a close and valued ally.

Reporting by Andrey Ostroukh; Additional reporting by Alexander Tanas; Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Frances Kerry