Diplomatic Briefing

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Newsline: Iowa governor tipped as US ambassador to China

Iowa governor Terry Branstad, a long-time friend of Chinese President Xi Jinping, is the front runner for the crucial post of United States ambassador to China. A decision could follow meetings between Mr Branstad and members of President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team in New York in the coming week, said three people with knowledge of the matter. The potential move to name Mr Branstad comes at a time of heightened tensions with China, after Mr Trump abandoned almost four decades of diplomatic protocol last Friday by speaking directly to the leader of Taiwan, which Beijing considers a rogue province.


Newsline: Israel summons Ecuadorean envoy

Modi Efraim, Israel’s Foreign Ministry’s deputy director- general for Latin America, summoned on Sunday the chargé d’affaires at the Ecuadorean Embassy to protest comments Ecuador’s ambassador to the UN made in the General Assembly last week equating Zionism with Nazism. “We repudiate with all our strength the persecution and genocide that, in its time, unleashed Nazism against the Hebrew people,” Horacio Sevilla Borja said on the occasion of International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. “But I cannot remember anything more similar in our contemporary history than the eviction, persecution and genocide that today imperialism and Zionism do against the Palestinian people.”


Newsline: Russian diplomat ‘beat Mongolian rapper over Swastika outfit’

A top Mongolian rapper was beaten into a coma by a Russian diplomat after wearing a swastika on stage, his lawyer and family have claimed. Amarmandakh Sukhbaatar was performing in the country’s capital Ulan Bator when the alleged attack took place, BBC reported. Russian news reports said he was hit over the head with a bottle and repeatedly kicked in the face. The Russian embassy said it was investigating, but called local press reports “distorted”. The rapper had taken to the stage in a red deel – a Mongolian robe – embroidered with a swastika. Though associated with the Nazis, the swastika is a traditional symbol in Mongolia that pre-dates Hitler.


Newsline: US embassy in Seoul seen as joining anti-President protests

The US embassy in Seoul was seen as possibly joining the protest against South Korean President Park Geun-hye on Saturday evening, turning a light off for one minute in tandem with protesters. The embassy’s one-minute blackout was captured on live TV and spotted by many protesters at the scene. The embassy is located in Gwanghwamun, where the rally took place. It had only one light on before the event. The embassy did not clarify whether it was a simple coincidence or a show of support for anti-Park protesters. Saturday’s rally was the largest in South Korean history, with an estimated 2.32 million participants across the country. Rally organizers had asked all protesters as well as those at home or offices anywhere in the country to observe the one-minute of darkness at 7 p.m. The lights-out event was symbolic of the protesters’ message that darkness, or lies, cannot blanket light, or truth.


Newsline: Ghana security authorities shut down fake US Embassy in Accra

A fake US Embassy which has been operating in Ghana for about 10 years has finally been discovered and shut down. It is not clear exactly when that happened, but a joint task force of both Ghanaian and foreign security operatives shut down the fake Embassy operating somewhere in the capital, Accra, according to information published on December 2, 2016 on the website of the US Department of State. Members of an organized crime gang made up of Turkish and Ghanaian citizens operated the fake Embassy in Accra where they flew the American flag on the building every Monday, Tuesday, and Friday from 7:30am to 12 noon and issued fraudulently obtained, legitimate US visas, counterfeit visas, false identification documents (including bank records, education records, birth certificates, and others) for a cost of $6,000. According to the Department of State, the suspects hanged a photo of President Barack Obama on the wall of the room and targeted mainly citizens of Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire, and Togo. That the scam operation didn’t accept walk-in services, but instead they went to the remote parts of West Africa to find customers that they brought to Accra and put in a nearby hotel. During the raid, several suspects were arrested and evidence collected included a laptop computer; smartphones; 150 passports from 10 countries; legitimate and counterfeit visas from the US, the Schengen zone, India, and South Africa; and counterfeit identity documents. While the information did not identify any of the suspects by name, it indicated that a Ghanaian immigration lawyer working with corrupt Ghana law enforcement officers were part of the scam.


Newsline: Demonetisation causes diplomatic row between India and Pakistan

The Pakistani High Commission has lodged a formal protest with the Ministry of External Affairs against Indian banks for refusing to cash salaried dollar cheques, The Hindu reported on Saturday. While employees of the High Commission are paid in dollars, Indian banks have imposed additional conditions on the withdrawal of salaries because of the rise in demand for dollars caused by the demonetisation of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 currency notes. A senior Pakistani diplomat said the commission was “finding it difficult” to perform its duties because the bank is refusing to let them withdraw cash. “This is an unprecedented challenge as the bank is declining our legitimate requests to withdraw our own money,” the diplomat said. Islamabad will be forced to take similar steps against Indian diplomats posted in Pakistan unless measures are taken to help the High Commission’s employees, an official said. The bank, which handles the accounts of the High Commission’s staff, has asked diplomats to present “letters of purpose” to withdraw dollar amounts. It has also given them the option of withdrawing their salaries in Indian currency or remitting their money back to Pakistan. However, the High Commission has told Indian authorities that it has found all three options to be unacceptable. The Ministry of External Affairs said it would “look into” Pakistan’s complaint, adding that it was in talks with the “relevant agencies” to solve the problem, The Economic Times reported. This comes at a time when relations between Islamabad and New Delhi have already deteriorated.


Newsline: Iran urges Kenya to free 2 charged in plot to attack Israeli Embassy

Iran on Friday urged Kenya to release two of its citizens charged by a Nairobi court with planning a terrorist act after being arrested for filming the Israeli Embassy in the capital. Kenyan State Prosecutor Duncan Ondimu said in court on Thursday that Sayed Nasrollah Ebrahimi and Abdolhosein Gholi Safaee were arrested Tuesday in an Iranian diplomatic car while taking the pictures of the Israeli mission using a mobile phone. He said the two were found with video footage of the embassy. But according to Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi, the two men are “official lawyers of the justice ministry… who traveled to Nairobi on behalf of the families of two Iranian prisoners in Kenya for a legal follow-up.” The men, along with a Kenyan driver also charged on Thursday, had been to Kamiti prison outside Nairobi to visit two other Iranians, Ahmad Mohammed and Sayed Mousavi, serving a 15-year term for possessing explosives after being convicted in 2013. Ghasemi said the arrest of the two lawyers had been the result of a “misunderstanding,” and called for their immediate release. Kenya’s ambassador to Tehran was called to the Foreign Ministry on Thursday and told of the “hostile intervention of a third party in a finished case, undoubtedly with the intention of damaging good Iran-Kenya relations,” Ghasemi said, without specifically referring to Israel. Iran and Israel have been arch-foes since the 1979 Islamic revolution. The Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem had no comment on the incident.