* Lukashenko wants warmer ties with U.S., ready to talk
* Says Moscow sought to "bring him to heel"
By Andrei Makhovsky
MINSK, Aug 13 Belarus's outspoken leader
Alexander Lukashenko, long at odds with the West but lately
quarreling with Moscow, said on Friday he wanted better ties
with the United States and berated his estranged ally Russia.
Lukashenko, criticised in the West over human rights, had
once pledged to build a "union state" that would combine Belarus
with Russia, but his relations with Moscow are now at a new low
as Moscow has cut economic subsidies to its Slav neighbour.
"We can, and we would like, to normalise relations with
America, and we do not hide this," state media quoted Lukashenko
as saying during a visit to Belarus's central Minsk region.
"We have many themes for negotiations, we have proposals
from our side as well as proposals from the American side. I
believe these issues can be resolved."
The United States and European Union have criticised Belarus
for not holding free or fair elections since Lukashenko came to
power in 1994. The veteran leader, last re-elected in 2006,
plans to seek another term in the next six months.
Lukashenko, who has released inmates considered by the West
to have been political prisoners and taken other steps to
appease the EU and Washington, accused Russia of putting
pressure on him ahead of the election.
"America stays on its position, but Russia has sharply
changed its stance, trying to bring the president of Belarus to
heel before the well-known political events," he said.
"But you have known me for ages -- it is impossible to bend
me and trying to do so is useless."
Lukashenko has so far declined to recognise the independence
of two pro-Russian separatist regions in Georgia, which Moscow
recognised after a five-day war with Georgia in August 2008.
In Friday's remarks, he blamed Moscow for failing provide
incentives to Belarus that would offset any negative
consequences of recognising the breakaway Georgian regions.
Relations between Russia and Belarus soured further in April
when Belarus gave refuge to former Kyrgyz leader Kurmanbek
Bakiyev, who was criticised by Moscow. In June, Minsk threatened
to cut Russian gas transit to Europe in a pricing dispute.
Lukashenko also said Moscow could lose a lucrative contract
to build Belarus's first nuclear power plant: "We are not
writing off other investors. In the near time we will decide who
will build our nuclear plant."
Building its own nuclear power plant has been on Belarus's
agenda since 2007 after sharp price increases for Russian
energy. A third of Belarus was contaminated with radiation when
a reactor at Chernobyl in next-door Ukraine blew up in 1986.
(Writing by Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by Peter Graff)