Archive for December, 2011
Diplomatic Briefing will not be publishing till January 3, 2012. Happy holidays!
Arab League monitors are to meet Syria’s top diplomat on Saturday, a day after suicide bombers killed 44 people in attacks Damascus blamed on Al-Qaeda but the opposition said were the regime’s work. The attacks, the first against the powerful security services in the heart of the capital since an uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began in March, came a day after the arrival of an advance group of monitors. They are in the country to pave the way for the arrival of a team of Arab League observers tasked with overseeing an end to the bloodshed, and will hold talks with Foreign Minister Walid Muallem. The UN Security Council condemned the attacks but remained deadlocked on a full resolution on the crisis with the Russian and US ambassadors trading personal barbs. State Department spokesman Mark Toner condemned the bombings, saying it was crucial the attacks “not impede the critical work of the Arab League monitoring mission”. Traditional Assad partner Russia condemned the “barbaric terrorist act”. Syria’s deputy foreign minister was accompanied to one of the bombing sites by Arab League Assistant Secretary General Samir Seif al-Yazal, head of the advance team which arrived Thursday. In Cairo, the Arab League’s Ahmed Ben Helli said the mission will head to Syria on Monday, grouping more than 50 experts in politics, human rights, military issues and crisis management, the official MENA news agency reported. The mission is part of an Arab plan endorsed by Syria on November 2 that also calls for the withdrawal of the military from towns and residential districts, a halt to violence against civilians and the release of detainees. Syria says more than 2,000 security force personnel have been killed in attacks by armed rebels since March. But opposition leaders have charged that Syria’s agreement to the mission after weeks of prevarication was a mere “ploy” to head off a threat by the Arab League to go to the UN Security Council over the nine-month crackdown which the world body says has killed more than 5,000 people.
The Iranian government has blocked access to the British embassy website for people in Iran, William Hague says. The UK foreign secretary called on Iran’s censors to reverse the “counter-productive and ill-judged” move. Mr Hague said Britain would continue to “engage with the Iranian people, including through the internet”. In a statement, Mr Hague said: “Britain’s website in Iran has now been added to the list of thousands of other internet sites deliberately censored by the Iranian authorities.” The Foreign Office website recommends against all but essential travel to Iran and against any travel to some parts of the country. It states: “There has been a dramatic increase in anti-British rhetoric from parliamentarians and demonstrators. The Iranian parliament and Guardian Council voted on November 27 and 28 respectively to expel the British Ambassador to Iran. Mr Hague ordered the expulsion of 25 Iranian diplomats from Britain after the attack on its Tehran embassy. All UK diplomatic staff in Tehran were also evacuated and Britain’s embassy closed. Iran said it regretted the incident, which it described as “unacceptable behaviour by a small number of protesters”. However, Mr Hague said there had been “some degree of regime consent” and that the majority of those who took part were members of a regime-backed Basij militia group.
Record numbers of Brazilians and Chinese have applied for visas to travel to the United States this year, the US State Department said. The State Department said it had deployed extra staff to its embassy and consulates in Brazil in order to process some of the 820,000 visa applications received this year, a 42 percent increase over 2010. More than 1.2 million Brazilians visited the United States in 2010, contributing some $6 billion to the economy, according to the US government, which said the number of visitors could reach 2.8 million by 2016. The State Department has also seen surging demand from China, where more than one million visa applications were submitted in 2011, a 34 percent increase over 2010. The deployment of extra staff has reduced the average wait time for a visa appointment in Brazil to less than 50 days and in China to less than 10 days, the State Department said.
The Foreign Affairs Department plans to spend up to $5 million next year for a sweeping intelligence study of potential threats to Canada’s foreign embassies and missions. The department is soliciting bids from seasoned security intelligence firms to tell them about the possible threats to its diplomatic corps from terrorism, instability and natural disasters in 174 countries, including 46 major cities. The Baseline Threat Assessment — or BTA — comes with a seemingly modest $1-million to $5-million price tag, according to a recently posted government procurement notice. A May memo obtained by The Canadian Press from the briefing book of Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird noted that the 2010 budget set aside $450 million over seven years for the Security Abroad Strategy to bolster security at Canada’s foreign embassies. Two weeks ago, Foreign Affairs posted a procurement notice to award a single contract for work to be conducted between January and March of next year.
Russian ambassador to India Alexander Kadakin tried soothing ruffled feathers on a Siberian court considering banning the Bhagwad Gita, emphasising his country’s secular credentials. “Russia is a secular and democratic country where all religions enjoy equal respect. It is even more applicable to the holy scriptures of various faiths, whether it is the Bible, the Holy Quran, Torah, Avesta and, of course, Bhagwad Gita, the great source of wisdom for the people of India and the world,” said Kadakin. He added, “I consider it categorically inadmissible when any holy scripture is taken to the courts. For all believers these texts are sacred.” On Monday, the Siberian court in Tomsk city adjourned the hearing for December 28 following an appeal by Hindus in Russia. The court is hearing a petition from a group connected to the Christian Orthodox Church, seeking to declare the Gita an “extremist text.” In a statement on Tuesday, Kadakin said, “It is not normal either when religious books are sent for examination to ignorant people. Their academic scrutiny should be done at scientists’ congresses, and seminars, but not in courts. It is strange that such events are unfolding in the beautiful university city in Siberia, as Tomsk is famous for its secularism and religious tolerance. Well, it seems that even the lovely city of Tomsk has its own neighbourhood madmen. It is sad indeed.”
The U.S. Ambassador to Nepal, Scott H. DeLisi, expressed deep concern over the general shutdown announced by the Nepali Congress to protest the death of its youth leader Shiva Paudel, saying intimidation and violence cannot be tolerated in the political front and suggesting that the U.S. may think of reimposing the travel warning to its citizens who want to visit Nepal if such measures are embraced by political parties. “The NC Central Committee has called for a shutdown. If this means a repeat of the intimidation and violence we saw on Saturday I think this is unfortunate,” DeLisi wrote in his Facebook page this afternoon. After Paudel succumbed to injuries inflicted on him during the December 6 attack by the CPN-UML cadres in the Chitwan District Prison, the NC cadres took to streets and obstructed the roads, paralysing the normal life. Alluding to the Nepali Congress, the American diplomat said, “Ultimately, it is up to you as Nepalis to determine the values you want to shape your political culture, but these actions affect your friends as well.” The U.S. Embassy has already announced that it will deny visa to the organisers of bandhs. In similar fashion, DeLisi had asked the CPN-UML’s Youth Association Nepal to withdraw a bandh called by them. DeLisi mentioned that the US recently lifted the travel warning for American citizens hoping to visit Nepal and efforts are being made to bring American investors in the country. “This type of political violence puts our efforts at risk and threatens to recreate the atmosphere that led to the travel warning in the first place.” He further reminded the NC of freedom of movement and democratic values that it has been preaching, and hoped that the party leadership will take up peaceful measures for protest. DeLisi concluded his status in the page, which is followed by over 7,800 Facebook users, writing: As always, I welcome hearing how all of you see this issue.
Chinese President Hu Jintao visited the North Korean embassy in Beijing on Tuesday to “express condolences” for the death of Kim Jong-il, in a sign of Beijing’s determination to protect its ties with Pyongyang as it enters an uncertain transition. Hu’s visit, reported by the official Xinhua news agency, followed a message from China’s central leadership on Monday that gave Beijing’s support for isolated North Korea and expressed confidence in Kim Jong-un — Kim Jong-il’s young and little-known successor. The brief Xinhua report did not say what Hu said during his embassy visit. But his gesture — unusual for China’s highest ranked leader — was enough to highlight Beijing’s effort to shore up support for Pyongyang under the younger Kim. “We feel incomparably anguished, and offer our deepest condolences to the entire North Korean people,” China’s top leaders said in a collective statement read out on state television’s main evening news on Monday. “We are sure that the North Korean people will abide by Comrade Kim Jong-il’s will and unify around the Korean Workers’ Party, and under the leadership of Comrade Kim Jong-un turn their anguish into strength,” it added. Over the 18 months before his death, Kim visited China four times, although in the past he rarely travelled abroad.
Israeli authorities forced the wife of the Palestinian ambassador to the UK to return to Jerusalem to renew her residency status during chemotherapy treatment, British media reported. Samira Hassassian died in August aged 57 after she contracted a virus on the return flight to the UK in the midst of cancer treatment, her husband Manuel told The Guardian newspaper. A spokesperson at the Israeli embassy in London denied Samira had been refused an extension of her residency, telling the paper “If there is a health issue there is no question that she would have had to travel.” Palestinians have to renew their residency status in East Jerusalem with the Israeli authorities every two years. Hassassian said his wife, who was a US-trained chemist and lecturer in business studies, was determined not to lose her right to live in East Jerusalem.
The US Embassy in Bangkok issued a statement emphasising its policy of not interfering in Thailand’s internal affairs after an uproar on its Facebook page threatened to boil over. Thai royalists recently bombarded the embassy’s Facebook page with criticism of Washington’s stance on recent lese majeste convictions. Royalist group Siam Samakkhi, led by Tul Sitthisomwong, yesterday held an anti-US rally outside the embassy on Wireless Road and submitted a petition to protest against what it sees as Washington’s interference in Thailand’s judicial system. A petition was also submitted to UN officials.The UN and US earlier expressed concern over the harsh sentencing of people convicted of lese majeste following verdicts handed down against Amphon “Akong” Tangnoppakul and dual Thai-US citizen Lerphong Wichaikammart, also known as Joe Gordon. Amphon was sentenced to 20 years in jail for sending four text messages insulting the monarchy, while Lerpong was sentenced to two and a half years in prison for translating parts of a banned book about the King and posting them on the Internet while in the United States. Posting on its Facebook page, the US Embassy repeated Ambassador Kristie Kenney’s earlier statement that the US government has the utmost respect for the Thai monarchy, the Royal Family and Thai culture. “President Obama, Secretary Clinton and the US Embassy in Bangkok all recently offered heartfelt congratulations to His Majesty the King of Thailand on the very special occasion of his 84th birthday. Thailand is our oldest friend in Asia and we will continue to stand by the Thai people,” the statement said. The embassy was treated to a dose of its own “freedom of expression” medicine when rival Thai political groups faced off in an obscenity-laced exchange on its Facebook page over the course of a few days. The heated exchange followed the ambassador’s “chat” session a week ago with fellow Twitter users, during which “freedom of expression” was a dominant topic. The session came a day after Thai-American Joe Gordon was sentenced to two and a half years in jail for translating parts of the banned book “The King Never Smiles” and posting the passages on a website while in the US. The embassy issued a statement on the heated Facebook exchange, saying, “As always, we welcomed your discourse and diverse views on our wall and pages. Please be mindful of our existing terms of service, however, by refraining from using language that is profane or abusive.” A glance at the embassy’s FB page on Thursday night revealed that all postings had been deleted.