Diplomatic Briefing

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Archive for February, 2012

Newsline: EU and Ukraine trade blame over ambassador’s remarks

Ukraine has given a political thumping to the EU ambassador in Kiev in what is amounting to a bad week for relations with ex-Soviet neighbours. Its foreign ministry summoned him to give explanations after he criticised President Viktor Yanukovych at a business conference. It also published a statement saying he does not know how to do his job. “The public statements of the EU ambassador to Ukraine Jose Manuel Pinto Teixeira … do not correspond to the traditions of international relations in diplomacy,” it said. “The issue is not just the tone of ambassador Teixeira’s remarks, but the fact that a person sent to Ukraine as a diplomat … is trying to get involved in the political process.” For its part, the EU’s External Action Service said on Wednesday: “The comment from the foreign ministry is an unfounded attack on the personal integrity and professionalism of the ambassador and we categorically reject it. Jose Manuel Pinto Teixeira has the full confidence of the EU.” Texeira’s crime was to tell businessmen that Yanukovych broke election promises on improving the investment climate – a sore point amid widespread reports of high-level corruption. The Portuguese-origin diplomat frequently annoys the administration with outspoken criticism. The latest war-of-words comes the same week as Belarus expelled two EU ambassadors, prompting all 27 EU envoys to quit the country in protest.


Newsline: Switzerland temporarily closes embassy in Damascus

Switzerland said Wednesday it has temporarily closed its embassy in Damascus for security reasons as violence in Syria continued despite growing international pressure on Bashar al-Assad’s regime. “Swiss citizens living in Syria were given due notice that the embassy would be closed and consular services transferred to Beirut,” the Swiss Foreign Ministry said in a statement, citing “reasons of security”. On February 15, Switzerland announced its intention to close the embassy, without a giving specific date. The Swiss ambassador to Syria was recalled to Bern in August 2011 for consultations and never returned to Damascus. Then in late November, the Foreign Ministry urged Swiss nationals to leave Syria as soon as possible. Some 150 of the 180 Swiss registered with the embassy are still in Syria. The vast majority of Swiss citizens in Syria – 147 people, or nearly 80 percent – are dual nationals.


Newsline: Chinese Embassy Interfering with Performance at London Theatre

London is the latest place for this interference, where the local promoters say that the Chinese Embassy has been putting pressure on the upper management of the theatre. The promoters say that last year the London Chinese Embassy sent staff to the theatre to try to convince them not to host Shen Yun. This year, the Embassy has again been interfering, they say, fitting a global pattern. Shen Yun is due to perform at the London Coliseum from April 12th-15th, promoted by the UK Falun Dafa Association. The Association’s vice president professor Li Shao says that the regime is frightened of Shen Yun. “The Chinese communist regime is atheist, and spent years trying to destroy the very culture and values that Shen Yun is bringing back to life so successfully.” Just last month in South Korea, the Chinese Vice Consulate and other consulate staff spoke with the local governments and theatres in Goyang and Gaegu demanding the cancellation of the rental contracts with the local Shen Yun promoter. The consular employees also called TV stations and told them that the performance had been cancelled and to stop broadcasting advertisements. Two years ago, in Moldova the Chinese regime threatened to withdraw loans promised to the government unless they pressured the theatre into cancelling Shen Yun. In some places such as the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, the consulate has written letters to local government officials encouraging them not to attend Shen Yun shows.


Newsline: Europe united in diplomatic move to isolate Belarus

Europe has been united by a diplomatic row. The bloc has agreed to recall member states’ ambassadors from Minsk in a move which will be seen to further isolate Belarus. The EU has reacted in solidarity in a tit-for-tat manner after Belarus had called on the head of the bloc’s delegation to the country and the ambassador of Poland to return to their capitals for consultations. That action was prompted by new sanctions adopted by the EU to punish Minsk’s human rights record. German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle fired a broadside at President Alexander Lukashenko. “This is the last dictatorship, this is the last dictator in Europe, and we will not let ourselves be intimidated by such actions against one European institutions or against one member state. We will not let others divide us. The dictator fools himself when he thinks he can divide us,” he said.


Newsline: Israel Appoints First Ethiopian-Israeli Ambassador to Ethiopia

The Foreign Ministry’s appointments committee announced Zevadia’s appointment to Addis Ababa. The 44-year-old will be Israel’s first Ethiopian-born ambassador. “It is a great honor to be appointed ambassador, and especially the first ambassador from the Ethiopian community,” she said. “I made aliya as a youth and am returning to Ethiopia as an ambassador.”


Newsline: Iran’s Foreign Ministry summons Azerbaijani Ambassador to protest ‘Creeping Zionist Influence’ In Caucasus

Iran’s Foreign Ministry summoned Azerbaijani Ambassador Javanshir Akhundov to explain Azerbaijan’s purchase of some $1.6 billion of weapons from Israel. The summons came in response to recent reports that Israel is selling drones, antiaircraft missiles and missile defense systems to Azerbaijan. Akhundov confirmed the purchase but said Azerbaijan needed the weapons to “liberate occupied Azerbaijani land,” a clear reference to Armenia and the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave currently occupied by pro-Armenian political authorities. Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi also warned Akhundov not to allow Israel to use Azerbaijani territory as a safe haven to launch “terrorist acts” against Iran. Earlier this month Iran accused Azerbaijan of allowing Israeli spies to use Azerbaijani territory, a charge Baku rejected as “slander.” Azerbaijan last week arrested an unspecified number of people Baku said were linked to Iran who were planning attacks in Azerbaijan. Those arrests came about the same time there were reported attempts to kill Israeli diplomats in India, Thailand and Georgia. On February 28, Iranian ambassador to Armenia Seyid Ali Saqqaiyan was quoted by Iran’s Fars news agency as saying in a speech that there is a “creeping influence of Zionists and foreigners in the South Caucasus region.” Saqqaiyan spoke of the “activities of the enemy in Azerbaijan over the recent period.”


Newsline: Controversy in Tanzania over Rome embassy building purchase

Former Tanzanian ambassador to Italy Prof Costa Ricky Mahalu (63) told Kisutu Resident Magistrate’s Court that the Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation was aware of the two contracts used in purchasing an embassy building in Rome. Mahalu, who is the first witness in the corruption case he faces along with his assistant, former consular Grace Martin, revealed this when making his defence before presiding principal resident magistrate Ilvin Mgeta. Prof Mahalu and Martin are charged in a high profile grand corruption case with causing the Tanzanian government a loss of euros 2m during the purchase of the embassy building over ten years ago. He told the court that, he communicated with then Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Jakaya Kikwete [now President of the United Republic of Tanzania] about the process of purchasing the embassy along with two draft contracts. Prof Mahalu added that after the arrangement, Kikwete met with the owner of the building who told him about the two contracts when he visited the building in December 2001. Led by his defense counsel Mabere Marando, Mahalu told the court that, the Minister reminded him to make sure that the money was paid soon before other people bid for the same building and win it. He added that the owner of the building during the discussion with Kikwete insisted to be paid USD one million, as commitment fee and the Minister assured her that the money would be paid before the end of the year. He further said that, Kikwete visited the building when he was attending a SADC meeting in December 2001.


Newsline: Former US Ambassador in Nassau had ‘dysfunctional leadership’

The American Embassy in Nassau is now in the process of stabilising itself following “an extended period of dysfunctional leadership” presided over by former Ambassador Nicole Avant, a published US Department of State report claimed. The report painted a picture of a US Ambassador who spent extensive time outside of The Bahamas during her tenure and who contributed to shortcomings throughout the Embassy in Nassau. In the report, the US State Department emphasised that during Ambassador Avant’s time in office “cables written (show) little political reporting or analysis on international crime, drug smuggling, and illegal migration or on prevention of terrorism.” A lack of confidence in local medical providers was also noted as Embassy employees thought ambulance services to be unreliable, the report states. There was also a general feeling, the report said, that medical care of any kind could not be obtained locally. An inspection of the Nassau-based Embassy was conducted from September 29 to October 12, 2011, by the Inspector General, just weeks before Ms Avant presented then Governor General Arthur Hanna with her credentials, signifying a soon ending term. Ms Avant left the country on November 22, 2011 after a two-year-tour of duty. Since then, Ms Avant, according to a January 31 White House Press Pool Report, has been extremely active in the Obama campaign as she hosted a fundraising dinner at her home for the second term hopeful. However, the report published in January 2012 and based on interviews with employees, officials of various governmental agencies, direct observations, and embassy records partly credited Ms Avant with the Embassy’s shortcomings. The report said: “The Ambassador had not had frequent policy-level interaction with the Department or other Washington agencies.” In addition, the report noted that Ms Avant’s lack of regular contact due to “her extensive travel out of the country and preference to work from the Ambassador’s residence for a significant portion of the work day, contributed to a perception of indifference.” Ms Avant was absent for 276 days during a 670-day period from November 19, 2009 to September 19, 2011. An average of 12 days per month, the report said. A further break-down showed that 84 days were non-work which included weekends and holidays with 102 personal leaves. Ms Avant also travelled to the US for 77 work days on what she identified as business. Only 23 of them have been identified as official travel orders.


Newsline: Ex-Slovenian ambassador to Spain charged with sexually abusing his 3 daughters

A Slovenian prosecutor has charged the country’s former ambassador to Spain with sexually abusing his three daughters. Slavko Ozbolt, the prosecutor in the coastal town of Koper, said Tuesday that details from the indictment could not be revealed. Peter Reberc — who faces up to eight years in prison if convicted — is charged with repeatedly abusing his daughters between 2005-2007, when two of them were under 15 years old. The report says Reberc’s wife reported him to the police. Reberc, a former politician, became ambassador to Spain in 2008, but was fired from the foreign ministry in 2010 for allegedly embezzling embassy funds.


Newsline: Seoul voices regret over China visa denial

South Korea expressed regret over China’s denial of a visa request by a lawmaker who has been on hunger strike to highlight Beijing’s “inhumane” repatriation of North Korean defectors held there. Rep. Park Sun-young of the minor conservative Liberty Forward Party had applied for a Chinese visa to visit Beijing and the northeastern city of Shenyang this month to discuss on the repatriation with Chinese officials and South Korean diplomats there. But the Chinese Embassy in Seoul twice denied the request without clear reason, raising speculation that it was Beijing’s retaliation against her campaign. “China’s decision (of denying the visa request) is regrettable,” said Cho Byung-jae, spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, during a regular media briefing, Tuesday. “Although visa issuance is a matter of sovereignty, which means this is not subject to complaint, the decision was regrettable.” The Chinese Embassy was not immediately available for comment. Park has led a variety of activities aimed at halting China’s repatriation of North Korean defectors detained there. The 56-year-old has gone on hunger strike in front of the Chinese Embassy in Seoul since last week, galvanizing people including politicians and celebrities to join the “Save My Friend” campaign. Some 30 North Koreans were recently caught by Chinese police and face an imminent return, according to human rights activists and lawmakers here. They say returnees face severe punishment and even death. Some of the detained defectors have allegedly already been handed over to North Korean authorities. The South’s government has taken an unusually tough stance on the matter amid soaring domestic pressure to save North Korean defectors. South Korea Ambassador Kim Bong-hyun has urged China to stop repatriating defectors in a speech delivered on Monday during the 19th session of the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland. The envoy said sending them back home amounts to a “grave infringement of human rights.” Last week, President Lee Myung-bak urged Beijing to follow international norms on the matter. Beijing has been pressed to acknowledge defectors as refugees and guarantee their safety. But China has refused to do so, defining them as “illegal migrants” who crossed the border due to economic reasons. South Korean and Chinese foreign ministers plan to meet in Seoul on March 2 and the defector issue is expected to top the agenda.



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