Archive for North America
The White House made clear that it did not welcome Iran’s choice of Hamid Abutalebi as its new United Nations ambassador, saying officials had told Tehran that the selection was “not viable.” But White House spokesman Jay Carney stopped short of saying Abutalebi would be barred from entering the United States because of his alleged role in the 1979-1981 hostage crisis, during which radical Iranian students held U.S. Embassy staff for 444 days. “We’ve informed the government of Iran that this potential selection is not viable,” Carney told reporters. Asked to explain what “not viable” meant, Carney said: “It’s diplomatic jargon to mean what you want it to mean.” He declined to elaborate on whether Abutalebi would be barred from the country, and emphasized that Iran’s choice of Abutalebi was a “potential selection” that had “not been formally made.” Earlier on Tuesday, Iran’s Foreign Ministry played down legislation passed by the U.S. Senate on Monday to bar Abutalebi from entering the United States, saying it had contacted the U.S. government about a visa. In remarks to Iranian media, Abutalebi has played down his role during the hostage crisis, suggesting he was just a translator.
The toxic soup that passes for air in Beijing is so bad, Canada’s ambassador to China says he might need to upgrade the embassy’s air filters. “I am very preoccupied with the air quality in Beijing and how it impacts on our lives and those of our families,” Guy Saint-Jacques told embassy staff in a January 2013 e-mail obtained by QMI Agency. Saint-Jacques says he’s asked for an analysis of the current air filtering systems at the embassy and staff living quarters, and has ordered staff to see whether more are needed. “Based on that analysis, and if need be, I will send a message to Ottawa to ask on an urgent basis for additional money to cover the costs of purchase of any supplementary (air) filters,” Saint-Jacques wrote in the e-mail. He promised to tell Foreign Affairs about the air quality problems staff in China deal with. Saint-Jacques also noted that no one will be breathing cleaner air in Beijing anytime soon “despite the best intentions of the Chinese government.” Saint-Jacques’s e-mail came within days of air quality in Beijing hitting 755 on an air pollution index that considers 300 a dangerous level.
The Canadian government has quietly ordered at least one Russian diplomat to leave the country within the next two weeks, Postmedia News has learned. It wasn’t immediately clear why Lt.-Col. Yury Bezler has been declared persona non grata, including whether the move is related to recent events in Ukraine, the recent stabbing of another Russian diplomat, or some other incident. There was also no indication whether any other Russian diplomats have been told to leave. The Russian Embassy did not immediately respond to questions. Canada’s Foreign Affairs department refused to comment. Bezler has served as assistant defence attaché at the Russian Embassy in Ottawa since arriving in Canada less than a year ago, and was one of three Russian military officers working out of the embassy. His expulsion comes amid tensions between Russia and the West over the situation in Ukraine, where the two sides are embroiled in the region’s worst diplomatic crisis since the Cold War. Canada expelled nine Russian military officers from Canada last month after suspending military-to-military co-operation between the two countries over Russia’s moves to annex the Crimea peninsula from Ukraine and its deployment of troops on Ukraine’s eastern border. But unlike Bezler, those Russian officers were involved in training exercises with the Canadian Forces, and were not accredited as diplomats. Belzer’s expulsion also comes less than a month after another Russian diplomat, Andrey Gorobets, was found bleeding in the lobby of his Ottawa apartment building on March 14. A reservist and Department of National Defence employee, Kevin Martin, was charged with aggravated assault in connection with the stabbing and was to appear in court on Wednesday.
Brussels police used tear gas and water cannon in clashes with protesters, as thousands gathered at a trade union rally against austerity on Friday. Violence in the area where many government offices are situated caused a lockdown at the US embassy. Around 25,000 people, according to Brussels police spokeswoman, Ilse Van de Keere, marched against austerity and unemployment. They were faced with a heavy-handed police response. Initially, the trade unions expected to see 40,000 demonstrators on the streets of Brussels. Some demonstrators threw oranges and cobblestones at police. Violent clashes also took place near the US embassy.
JPMorgan said it was processing a payment from Russia’s Embassy in Kazakhstan to Russian insurance agency Sogaz, moving to ease tensions after Moscow accused the U.S. bank of “illegally” blocking the transaction. Russia’s Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday the bank had blocked the payment “under the pretext of anti-Russian sanctions” and suggested the “unacceptable, illegal and absurd” act would have consequences for the U.S. Embassy in Russia. The confrontation threatened to further strain ties between Washington and Moscow, which have been locked in a standoff over Russia’s annexation of Crimea. “Following consultation with our regulators, we are processing this transaction,” JPMorgan said on Thursday in a statement. Last month, Washington imposed sanctions, including visa bans and asset freezes, against several Russians close to President Vladimir Putin and against Rossiya Bank, which it said was the “personal bank” for the leader’s inner circle. Insurance agency Sogaz is 48.5 percent owned by Abros, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Bank Rossiya. Guidelines on the U.S. Treasury department’s website from the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control says that property which is more than 50 percent owned by a person on the sanctions blacklist is affected. “U.S. persons are advised to act with caution when considering a transaction with a non-blocked entity” in which the blocked person has significant ownership interest that is less than 50 percent, the guidelines say.
The U.S. Embassy in Moscow has denied claims that the United States could have been involved in the actions of snipers during mass riots in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, on February 20.
Russia has accused U.S. banking giant J. P. Morgan of illegally blocking a cash transfer from its embassy in Kazakhstan to a Russian company. A ministry statement calls J.P. Morgan’s move “unacceptable, illegal and absurd” and warns the blockage will “have consequences” for the U.S. embassy in Russia. The Russian Foreign Ministry linked the blockage to U.S. sanctions slapped on Moscow for its seizure of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula. There was no immediate comment from U.S. officials or J. P. Morgan. The U.S. Congress Tuesday approved the sanctions announced by President Barack Obama last month and also gave final approval to $1 billion in loan guarantees to the Ukrainian government.
The State Department wants to plunk down $400,000 in taxpayer money for a camel sculpture at the new U.S. Embassy being built in Islamabad, Pakistan. “Camel Contemplating Needle,” created by American artist John Baldessari, depicts a 500-pound white camel made of fiberglass staring at the eye of an oversized needle, Buzzfeedfirst reported. Officials explained the decision to purchase the sculpture in a four-page document justifying a “sole source” procurement. State Department press spokeswoman Christine Foushee told Buzzfeed that the proposed purchase comes from the department’s “Office of Art in Embassies.”
The top U.S. and Russian diplomats agreed Sunday to work with Ukrainian government officials to ease the crisis triggered by Russia’s annexation of Crimea, but remained far apart on other key points after four hours of negotiations in Paris. Secretary of State John F. Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called the meeting constructive. Lavrov’s remarks suggested that Moscow may now be more willing to work with the interim Ukrainian government, which it has previously dismissed as illegitimate. Both men indicated that the discussions would include how to govern Ukraine, which is split between regions that tend to be pro-Western or pro-Russian. Lavrov demanded that the interim government in Kiev rewrite the constitution to allow provinces broad autonomy, but Kerry insisted that any such decisions could be made only by the Ukrainian authorities, who ousted pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovich one month ago. The U.S. diplomat also pushed for Russia to remove the 40,000 troops it has massed on Ukraine’s border, saying that “any solution” must involve a pullback. But Lavrov, who has contended that the forces are only conducting routine military exercises, showed no willingness to do so. The United States and Russia have been at odds since Russian troops seized, then annexed, the Ukrainian region of Crimea, where a majority of the population speaks Russian. Western governments fear that Moscow is seeking control over at least parts of Ukraine, a country that Russia has long viewed as part of its sphere of influence. U.S. officials have put forth a plan that calls for the disarming of private militias, the entry of international monitors to supervise treatment of minority groups and direct Ukrainian-Russian talks. Russia has been urging international negotiations to create a decentralized Ukrainian government, a move that could give powerful leverage to Moscow and Russian-speaking Ukrainians in the east who tend to favor ties with Russia.
Iran has named a member of the militant group that held 52 Americans hostage in Tehran for 444 days to be its next ambassador to the United Nations. The Iranian government has applied for a U.S. visa for Hamid Aboutalebi, Iran’s former ambassador to Belgium and Italy, who was a member of the Muslim Students Following the Imam’s Line, a group of radical students that seized the U.S. embassy on Nov. 4, 1979. Imam was an honorific used for Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of the Islamic Revolution. Relations between the Islamic Republic and the U.S. and its allies are beginning to emerge from the deep freeze that began when the self-proclaimed Iranian students overrun the embassy and took the hostages. The State Department hasn’t responded to the visa application, according to an Iranian diplomat. A controversy over Aboutalebi’s appointment could spark demands on Capitol Hill and beyond during this congressional election year for the Obama administration to take the unusual step of denying a visa to an official posted to the UN. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani chose Aboutalebi to serve at the UN, which is headquartered in New York City on international, soil after the interim nuclear deal was forged last Nov. 24.