Rice Encourages Democracy for Belarus

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (search) focused the international spotlight Thursday on a former Soviet satellite state where dissidents are fighting for democratic reforms.

Some observers believe Belarus (search) is poised to follow Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan in a popular uprising.

Speaking in Russia earlier this week, Rice called Belarus "the last dictatorship in Europe." Her session on Thursday with Belarussian dissidents visiting with her at the NATO summit in Lithuania was designed to advance the pro-democracy wave that has swept over other former Soviet satellites in recent months.

"What we can do together is we can shine a spotlight on places where people are still denied freedom. We can put that on the international agenda," Rice said.

For the last decade, Belarus has suffered under the authoritarian rule of President Alexander Lukashenko (search), a Soviet-style dictator who rigs elections and routinely crushes the kind of street protests that have toppled similar governments. Now, Belarussians have a new rallying point -- suspicious disappearances, like that of Szvetlana Zavadskaya, whose husband, a journalist, vanished five years ago.

Dissident Alexander Dobrovolskiy said he and others are already organizing street protests for next year's election.

"We plan to present an alternative and initiate mass pressure," he said through a translator.

While the United States funnels about $8 million a year to help the opposition in Belarus, Rice neither endorsed nor condemned street protests as a vehicle for change.

"These are the people closest to the ground. They are the people that know best the method that is going to be necessary to make changes in Belarus," she said.

Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who hosted Rice in Moscow just a day earlier, remarked that his country doesn't advocate "what some people call regime change." In an interview with FOX News, Rice declined to say whether even half of Russia's nuclear material is firmly under lock and key.

"I'm not going to get into numbers. I don't think that people should believe that we have a huge problem with a lack of security of nuclear material," she said.

Having prepared Russia for a visit next month by President Bush, Rice's return to the United States is imminent. But she won't be there for long. On Monday, the secretary will leave for a four-country tour of Latin America.

Click in the box near the top of the story to watch a report by FOX News' James Rosen.