The United States and Cuba still have no agreement on re-establishing embassies. Five months after Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro announced their intention to improve ties, the former foes on Friday completed a fourth round of negotiations without ironing out enough of the differences that have accumulated over a half-century of estrangement to restore diplomatic relations. However, the top U.S. diplomat for Latin America, Roberta Jacobson, insisted the two sides were “much closer” to that goal after a “highly productive” session. Cuba said the talks would continue, but gave no date for a future next round. Jacobson said another high-profile gathering might not be necessary. Even as many of the biggest hurdles have been cleared, Washington and Havana are still wrangling over American demands that its diplomats be able to travel throughout Cuba and meet dissidents without restrictions. The Cubans are wary of activity they see as destabilizing to their government.
Venezuela will boost its diplomatic representation in Palestine to full embassy status, according to the Venezuelan minister for foreign affairs. “Following instructions from President Nicolás Maduro, we will raise our representation in the heroic Palestinian states to embassy level,” Delcy Rodríguez announced. Venezuela is currently represented by a first secretary in the city of Ramallah – headquarters of the Palestinian National Authority. The news comes after a visit by Palestinian foreign affairs minister Riyad al-Maliki to Venezuela this week, during which 18 agreements of cooperation and a contract were signed covering a wide range of strategic areas. Formal diplomatic ties between the two nations were established in 2009 under late President Hugo Chávez as a result of the Palestinian conflict with Israel that year. Venezuela went on to expel Israeli representatives as a sign of support for the Palestinian cause.
A State Department employee is accused of hacking the emails of young American women and blackmailing them with compromising photos, all from his computer at the US Embassy in London. Michael Ford threatened to post the sexually explicit images online unless the women complied with his demands, such as shooting videos of other women undressing, prosecutors say. The US citizen faces charges including cyberstalking and making interstate threats, according to a federal complaint filed in Atlanta, Georgia. Authorities detained him last week at Atlanta’s airport as he prepared to board a flight back to London after visiting relatives. Ford, who was living in South Croydon, moved to the UK in 2005 and began working at the embassy in 2009, according to the affidavit. It is not clear what his role is at the embassy. He allegedly posed as a Google employee in one instance to obtain a victim’s email password. Ford is in custody pending a court appearance in in Atlanta on 1 June.
The Nigerian diplomat, Noah Ichaba, Agredo Admin del Consulado de Nigeria of the Consulate General was allegedly beaten up by a policeman, although he possessed his official documents and permits issued by the Equatorial Guinean authorities. In protest against the beating, the Consulate-General of Nigeria in Bata, has written the authorities of Equatorial Guinea’s Ministry of External Affairs, to demand that attacks on Nigerians and Nigerian diplomats in the country should stop. An apology was also demanded for the attack on the diplomat. Ichaba holds the Diplomatic Identity Card Number 399/2014 which is valid through December 16, 2015, but the document was allegedly not recognised by the policeman who demanded for his resident permit
Mortar rounds fell near the Russian embassy in the Syrian capital on Thursday, killing one person, in the second such attack this week, a monitor said. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the unidentified man died after “two mortar rounds struck near the Russian embassy in the Mazraa neighbourhood” of Damascus. A mortar attack on the Russian embassy on Tuesday had caused property damage but no casualties. Russia’s foreign ministry said the source of Tuesday’s mortar fire “seemed to come from the Jobar area, which is under the control of illegitimate armed groups”. Moscow is a key ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The UN Security Council condemned Tuesday’s attack, with Lithuania’s UN ambassador Raimonda Murmokaite saying “considerable damage” had been done to buildings.
The United States and Cuba began a fourth round of talks on Thursday aimed at overcoming obstacles to opening embassies in each other’s capitals and re-establishing diplomatic ties, the crucial next step in their historic detente. The meetings at the State Department are being led by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson and Josefina Vidal, director of U.S. affairs at the Cuban foreign ministry. There were no remarks as the talks began, although both sides have reported progress in closing in on a deal, part of an agreement clinched between U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro in December. Once diplomatic relations are restored, the long-time adversaries will work on the more complicated task of normalizing overall relations. But Washington wants assurances that its diplomats will have more freedom of movement in Havana, while Castro this week reiterated Cuban concerns that dissidents are receiving “illegal” training at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana. Jacobson assured lawmakers in testimony on Wednesday that Washington would not agree to the opening of an embassy in Havana without its diplomats being able to travel more freely outside the capital. The two countries have interests sections rather than embassies in each other’s capitals. Currently, U.S. diplomats cannot leave the capital without permission, while Cuban diplomats cannot travel outside of Washington and New York.
The United Nations and the United States condemned a mortar attack on the Russian embassy in Damascus that did not, however, cause any known injuries. Lithuanian Ambassador Raimonda Murmokaite, whose country holds the rotating UN Security council presidency this month, said the “terrorist” attack caused “serious damage.” The 15-member council stressed that host countries have an obligation to “take all appropriate steps to protect diplomatic and consular premises.” Joining the condemnation was the United States, which also renewed calls for a political solution to end the bloody Syrian conflict. Earlier in the day, Moscow, a key ally of Damascus, said the embassy complex had come under mortar fire at 3:25 pm (1225 GMT). It said the shots appeared to have been fired from the Jobar neighborhood, which is under the control of “armed illegal groups.” “A shell exploded 50 feet (15 meters) from the main gate of our diplomatic mission. Another hit the external wall and fell in an embassy office. Luckily, no embassy staff was hit,” the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement.