Diplomatic Briefing

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Archive for North America

Newsline: US congress grills officials over controversial embassy designs

A House committee grilled State Department officials citing original reporting from CBS News on a controversial government initiative CBS first reported on last month. The issue: spending hundreds of millions of dollars to replace run-down embassies with better-looking buildings without sacrificing security. “The total project cost for London is near a billion dollars,” said Lydia Muniz, director of the Bureau of Overseas Building Operations. Rep. Kerry Bentivolio, R-Mich., exclaimed, “a billion dollars!” At a tense hearing, lawmakers questioned the cost of the striking glass cube being built to house the U.S. Embassy in London. “They could have spent $200 million less, and we could have built two other embassies,” said Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif. The London embassy’s sleek design reflects a new emphasis on architecture, which the State Department embraced in 2011, dubbing it “design excellence.” It’s a shift from the Bush years, when U.S. Embassies, like the ones in Johannesburg and Bulgaria, were built rapid-fire using one standard design.


Newsline: Germany Asks Intelligence Official at US Embassy to Leave Country

Germany has asked a U.S. intelligence official at the embassy in Berlin to leave the country in connection with investigations into suspected American spying, a German government spokesman said. “The request was made in light of the ongoing investigation by the chief federal prosecutor and questions that have been raised for months about the activities of U.S. intelligence services in Germany,” Steffen Seibert said in a statement. German politicians reacted angrily to news of a suspected U.S. spy in the defense ministry, which came days after the arrest of a German foreign intelligence agency worker as a suspected CIA informant. After the federal prosecutors said authorities had conducted searches in connection with a second spying case, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition partners said Washington should remove any U.S. embassy staff involved and cease spying on its ally.


Newsline: US Embassy Tells Russia to Release Female Ukraine Pilot

The U.S. Embassy in Moscow has called for the immediate release of Nadezhda Savchenko, a Ukrainian helicopter pilot currently being held in a Russian detention facility on suspicion of having abetted the killings of two Russian journalists. Savchenko was captured by separatists in Luhansk in June. She is now being held in the southern Russian city of Voronezh. Ukrainian officials maintain that she was illegally trafficked across the border by Russian intelligence officers, while Russia maintains that she crossed the border voluntarily under the guise of a refugee. Russian Investigative Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin said on Wednesday that Savchenko was believed to have provided crucial information that led to the deaths of journalists Igor Kornelyuk and Anton Voloshin of Russian public broadcaster VGTRK, who were killed by shelling in Luhansk on June 17. Citing court orders, Markin said that Savchenko would remain behind bars until the end of August as an investigation runs its course. The U.S. Embassy condemned Savchenko’s “kidnapping by separatists, her illegal transfer to Russian authorities and her prolonged detention,” U.S. Embassy Press Secretary Joseph Kruzich told Kommersant. The embassy’s condemnation echoed that of the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry’s, which described Savchenko’s transfer to Russia as “illegal trafficking” in a statement.


Newsline: Exploitation of servants sparks embassy crackdown in Ottawa

The federal government has temporarily barred several embassies and high commissions from employing new domestic staff after evidence that workers were being exploited, documents reveal. Foreign affairs staff are raising a red flag about the treatment of servants behind closed diplomatic doors in Ottawa and across the country after finding “workplace abuses and extensive labour rights violations.” “Cases of domestic servitude in diplomatic households and all forms of labour exploitation of accredited domestic workers remain a challenge,” read a 2013 foreign affairs department report. In at least two cases, Ottawa police officers are looking at possible criminal charges after domestic workers in diplomatic residences made allegations of labour exploitation. That same report reveals that five embassies and high commissions were all banned earlier this year from hiring new domestic workers and that several were repeat offenders, cited for “continued, consistent and serious breaches of Canadian policy.” In one case, diplomats of an unnamed country held nine domestic workers in “involuntary servitude” and committed illegal workplace practices, such as withholding wages, according to a December 2013 report, obtained by the Star under Access to Information. Foreign affairs officials reacted by barring that country’s diplomats from employing new domestic workers, apparently the second such ban in as many years for the embassy. Foreign affairs reports reveal that in at least two cases, Ottawa police are looking at possible criminal charges The names of the embassies and high commissions involved were censored in the reports provided to the Star. However, Montreal newspaper La Presse, which previously reported on concerns of abuse, said the allegations involved countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. According to a 2012 report by the foreign affairs department, there were 129 private servants working for foreign representatives in Canada. At the time, Saudi Arabia had the most, with a dozen private servants in diplomatic households.


Newsline: Obama taps another bundler to be ambassador to Costa Rica

President Obama nominated yet another bundler for an excellent ambassadorship, one in beautiful Costa Rica, land of wonderful beaches, volcanoes, tropical forests, zip-lining, exotic fauna and flora, lovely people and no army. The pick? Stafford Fitzgerald Haney, who’s head of business development and client service at Pzena Investment Management. Haney could be described — according to a New York Times tally — not as a mega-bundler but more a mini-bundler, raising only $35,800 in the last campaign (through September 2012) and just under a piddling $200,000 since 2007. It’s pretty safe to assume, from his résumé, that Haney speaks some Spanish, since he worked for much of the ’90s for U.S. companies in Puerto Rico and as a company marketing manager for Mexico and Central America — which may have even taken him to Costa Rica. He also got undergrad and masters degrees from Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service.


Newsline: US Embassy in Israel Tells Workers to Stay Home

The US embassy in Tel Aviv has minimized its hours and avised staff to stay at home until further notice due to recent rocket fire there, according to a statement released Tuesday night. “As a result of the July 8 rocket attacks on Tel Aviv and the potential for further attacks, [the] U.S. Embassy Tel Aviv will operate at minimal staffing until further notice,” the statement said. “The Chief of Mission personnel will not be allowed to travel south of Tel Aviv without prior approval,” it continued. “Embassy families living in Tel Aviv are being advised to remain at home and in close contact with one another.” The Embassy further advised US citizens to keep a close eye on updates on the Home Front Command’s English website and to be familiar with current events. Earlier Wednesday morning, sirens sounded in Tel Aviv and across the Gush Dan area. At least five rockets were shot down over the city by the Iron Dome missile defense system. The US strongly condemned the rocket fire late Tuesday, and expressed support for Israel’s right to self-defense.


Newsline: US diplomat expelled from Bahrain

Bahrain has expelled a high-ranking American diplomat, accusing him of meddling in the Persian Gulf kingdom’s internal affairs. Tom Malinowski, US Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, arrived in Bahrain on Sunday and met with members of Bahrain’s main opposition bloc al-Wefaq. The Foreign Ministry of Bahrain said in a statement published by the official BNA state news agency that Malinowski “held meetings with a particular party to the detriment of other interlocutors, thus discriminating between one people, contravening diplomatic norms and flouting normal interstate relations.” The statement added that Malinowski “is unwelcome and should immediately leave the country, due to his interference in its internal affairs.” Meanwhile, US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Malinowski “is on a visit to reaffirm and strengthen our bilateral ties and to support his royal majesty King Hamad’s reform and reconciliation efforts at an important time, particularly given events elsewhere in the region.” Bahrain hosts the headquarters of the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet, where thousands of US military personnel are based. Since mid-February 2011, thousands of pro-democracy protesters have staged numerous demonstrations in the streets of Bahrain, calling for the Al Khalifa royal family to relinquish power.


Newsline: U.S. embassies on high alert over threats by ISIS

All 294 U.S. embassies around the world are on heightened alert due to threats from the Islamic State (ISIS) terrorist organization that tweeted their intentions of bombing U.S. embassies if the U.S. decides to attack Iraq. Some of the statements by the Islamic State (ISIS) said, “If the United States bomb Iraq, every American citizen is a legitimate target for us. Every American doctor working in any country will be slaughtered if America attack Iraq. If America attacks Iraq; every American embassy in the world will be exposed and attacked with car bombs.” While the tweets originally came from the Twitter account, @ansaar999, it appears the Islamic terrorists changed their name or now may be using @ANS_IS999 due to the amount of anti-western rhetoric being posted.


Newsline: Iraqi politician urges to shut down US embassy in Baghdad

A prominent member of Iraq’s Parliamentary Committee on Defense Affairs says the government must take all necessary measures to shut down the US embassy in Baghdad. The comments by Iskandar Watoot come after US failed to meet its obligations in the case of Iraq security. The veteran Iraqi politician also criticized Washington for delaying the delivery of US F-16 jets purchased by Baghdad. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has said the al-Qaeda-linked militants’ advance could have been avoided if US jets had been delivered on time. Iraqi politicians have also accused Washington of trying to justify its stance on Iraq by describing the crisis there as sectarian.


Newsline: Iraq’s Isis threaten to plant bombs at ‘every American embassy’

All 294 US diplomatic outposts are on high alert after the terror threats were posted online by rebels. One ISIS post said: “If America attacks Iraq every American embassy in the world will be exposed and attacked with car bombs.” Another vowed: “If the United States bomb Iraq, every American citizen is a legitimate target.” The terrorists said that companies in Arab countries employing US citizens would also be targeted, after threatening to “slaughter” US doctors around the world. The messages came amid a US government fightback on Twitter against ISIS militants who urged followers to tweet threats. The @ansaar999 account, which appears to have links with the rebel group, tweeted its 23,400 followers, telling them to post anti-US messages in English. The messages, sent to politicians and celebrities including Oprah Winfrey, contained images of dead US soldiers, the 9/11 attacks and masked ISIS fighters.



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