Russia’s top diplomat says U.S. intelligence agencies were so desperate to recruit Russian spies in Washington last year that American officials planted $10,000 in cash inside a Russian official’s car, along with a letter asking the envoy to work with the U.S. government. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov made that claim Tuesday, as he roundly dismissed the Obama administration’s ongoing assertion that U.S. diplomats have faced increasing harassment in Russia during recent years. To the contrary, Mr. Lavrov claimed, it’s actually American spies who’ve increasingly bothered Russian officials in Washington. In his first public comments on the matter since the Obama administration ejected 35 Russian officials from the U.S. last month on suspicion they were actually spies for Moscow, Mr. Lavrov claimed American intelligence attempts to recruit Russian spies in Washington spiked last April. “We have not made public the full statistics on this matter, but recently, in the past few years and especially during Obama’s second [term], the number of such unfriendly actions directed at our diplomats have grown,” the Russian foreign minister said.
The foreign ministry said efforts were being made to improve the situation after the island’s embassy in Brussels seemingly shut down on the quiet. Although the embassy’s website carried a notification that it would no longer operate as of December 31, no other announcements seem to have been made. “An official announcement has been sent to the Federal Public Service Foreign Affairs of Belgium as well as to all Diplomatic Missions and International Organisations in Belgium,” the embassy said. But Cypriot who live there feel let down. “Cypriots in Belgium and Luxembourg are essentially left without consular support,” Brussels based Irene Kyriacou who said she has tried to contact the embassy for a month. They are currently served by the embassy in The Hague, the embassy’s website announcement said, though to Kyriacou and others living in Belgium this is not acceptable. According to a source at the foreign ministry in Nicosia, the embassy, which was housed with the Cyprus permanent representation office in Brussels, was only of limited use anyway. Plans to improve the situation will see a more junior consular, a chargé d’affaires, appointed in the next few months to replace the ambassador in Brussels. “This is standard practice for saving money. Unlike an ambassador this person will not need a driver and a house. The ambassador in The Hague will be the non-resident ambassador for Belgium,” the source explained.
Costa Rica has announced the launch of a new embassy in Dubai as the Central American nation moves to build stronger relations with the United Arab Emirates. The launch of the embassy – which is expected to open in the coming months – was announced by Luis Guillermo Solís Rivera, the President of Costa Rica, during a visit to Dubai. A representative trade office will also be established to aid business between the two countries, and the UAE and Costa Rica signed a protocol granting citizens mutual exemption from pre-entry visas.
European Union foreign ministers on Monday opposed any plan by President-elect Donald Trump to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and warned that it could ratchet up tensions with the Arab world. “It is very important for us all to refrain from unilateral actions, especially those that can have serious consequences in large sectors of public opinion in large parts of the world,” EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini told reporters after chairing their talks in Brussels. Mogherini declined to say what consequences could be considered as no formal decision has been made to move the embassy. Trump hasn’t yet outlined a clear policy for the Middle East, but has signaled he will be more sympathetic to Israel’s hard-line right than previous administrations. He has vowed to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, part of which the Palestinians want as the capital of their future state. “We will for sure not move our delegation. That is in Tel Aviv,” Mogherini said. Mogherini said that the EU would continue to respect the international consensus that embassies shouldn’t be based in Jerusalem, which is laid out in U.N. Security Council Resolution 478, dating from 1980.
Bahrain’s foreign ministry summoned Iraq’s ambassador in Manama to protest against remarks by Iraqi officials denouncing the execution of men convicted of a 2014 bomb attack, state news agency BNA said. The execution on Sunday of three men, whose attack killed three policemen, has drawn condemnation from rights groups. Iran called it a “reckless” act. British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said Britain opposes the death penalty and he “raised the issue with the Bahraini Government.”
Six departing U.S. ambassadors in Asia including Caroline Kennedy urged Congress to pass the Trans-Pacific Partnership “before the window for doing so closes,” saying that a failure to adopt the free-trade deal would cede leadership to China in the region and hurt American workers. “Walking away from TPP may be seen by future generations as the moment America chose to cede leadership to others in this part of the world and accept a diminished role,” the ambassadors wrote in the letter obtained by Bloomberg News. “Such an outcome would be cause for celebration among those who favor ‘Asia for the Asians’ and state capitalism.” The letter was a last-ditch and largely symbolic plea from the diplomats for lawmakers to buck sentiment aired during the presidential election that the 12-nation pact, which once had strong support and seemed destined for passage, was bad for the U.S. economy. During the campaign, Donald Trump called the deal bad for the U.S and vowed to walk away from it on his first day in office. His Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton abandoned it as well.
The Palestinian Authority has opened an embassy at the Vatican on the eve of a peace conference meant to revive long-stalled talks with Israel. The embassy confers a new level of legitimacy on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who was granted an audience with Pope Francis. While the Vatican has maintained close ties with Israel, Francis has increasingly spoken on behalf of the Palestinian people, encouraging both sides to reach a deal that creates a Palestinian state recognized by Israel. “This embassy is a place of pride for us and we hope that all of the countries of the world recognize the state of Palestine, because this recognition will bring us closer to the peace process,” Abbas said at the Vatican.