Diplomatic Briefing

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Newsline: British foreign secretary visits Cuba first time since 1959

Britain’s foreign secretary met Cuban officials on the first such visit to the island since 1959, for talks on boosting trade and tourism ties with the communist state. Philip Hammond’s trip comes a month after US President Barack Obama’s historic visit to the Caribbean nation, which is opening up to warmer ties with its old Cold War rivals. Hammond told reporters in Havana that he was “the first UK foreign secretary to visit Cuba since the revolution” that brought Fidel Castro to power in 1959. His visit also follows meetings in recent months between Cuba’s President Raul Castro and other top officials and leaders from the European Union. Hammond met with his Cuban counterpart Bruno Rodriguez and signed several cooperation agreements with other communist government officials. Hammond said he wanted “enhanced bilateral cooperation underpinned by increased trade, increased investment and more tourists coming to Cuba” from Britain. Britain was the second-biggest source of foreign tourists to Cuba last year after Canada, with 160,000 Britons making the trip, he said.


Newsline: Australian embassy seeks to secure release of aid worker kidnapped in Afghanistan

An Australian woman working for a charity in Afghanistan has been kidnapped, the country’s foreign minister said Friday. Julie Bishop said Canberra was working to secure the release of Katherine Jane Wilson, but insisted Australia does not pay ransoms for hostages. Wilson, who also uses the first name Kerry, was grabbed in the city of Jalalabad, close to the border with Pakistan, on Thursday, a government official in the area told AFP. “She visited the city of Jalalabad for a women’s embroidery project,” said Ataullah Khogyani, a spokesman for the governor of Nangarhar province, of which Jalalabad is the capital. “And unknown masked gunmen abducted her from Police District 2 of Jalalabad city.” He added that the kidnappers, disguised as police, took her at 4am from a home in which she was staying. Bishop said she had been in contact with Wilson’s family. “Our priority is to ensure that she is well, that she’s being treated well, and so that’s what we’re focusing our efforts upon, working with the local authorities. Our embassy in Kabul of course is deeply involved in this matter.” Asked if Canberra would pay a ransom if one was demanded, she replied: “The Australian government does not, as a matter of policy, pay ransom for kidnappers.”


Newsline: Nigerian Diplomatic Missions Abroad Broke, Can’t Meet Obligations

Most Nigerian missions/embassies abroad are broke and unable to meet their obligations. Nigerian diplomatic missions are faced with several challenges, chief of which include their inability to pay their workers, delays in the issuance of visas and passports, lack of funding for day-to-day operations, and inability to pay the rent of embassies and workers’ residences. Sources at the Nigerian embassy in the United States informed THISDAY that even before the demise of Ambassador Ade Adefuye, Nigeria’s last ambassador to the US, the mission had been bugged down by paucity of funds. They added that the Nigerian Embassy in Washington D.C. often incurs and pays for its bills on credit and it takes a long time before the embassy is reimbursed by the federal government. Nigerians in the diaspora complained of the incompetence and lack of funds exhibited by Nigerian embassy officials overseas. Some also spoke of alleged demands for gratification by Nigeria embassy officials for the simplest of requests, which also compounds the negative image of Nigeria abroad. Efforts to speak with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the parlous state of Nigeria’s missions overseas hit a brick wall as calls and texts to the ministry’s spokesman, Mr. Akinremi Bolaji, were unanswered.


Newsline: Philippine embassy repatriates 143 housemaids from Kuwait

The Philippine Embassy in Kuwait repatriated 143 runaway housemaids to Manila evening through Kuwait government’s Assisted Voluntary Repatriation Program (AVRP). With this scheme, repatriated workers are sent straight to the airport without passing through the deportation center (Talha). The repatriated workers were temporarily housed at the embassy’s shelter in Hateen for various reasons ranging from maltreatment to sexual and verbal abuse. Around 300 more remain at the two embassy shelters in Faiha and Hateen awaiting repatriation. The repatriated workers are the biggest batch of returnees so far this year. There are an estimated 200,000 Filipinos in Kuwait, more than one third of whom are engaged in domestic work. Around five to seven housemaids run away from their employers daily. According to Philippine Ambassador to Kuwait Renato Pedro Villa, the Philippines along with two other nations in Africa are the only remaining labor-exporting countries sending housemaids to Kuwait.

Philippine embassy repatriates 143 housemaids through Kuwait’s AVRP

Newsline: Iran summons Swiss envoy over $2 billion U.S. court ruling

Iran summoned the Swiss ambassador, who handles U.S. interests in Tehran, to condemn a Supreme Court ruling that almost $2 billion in frozen Iranian assets must be turned over to U.S. families of those killed in attacks blamed on Tehran. Denouncing the ruling as theft, Iran warned that it would seek to take the United States to the International Court of Justice at The Hague to prevent the distribution of the money. “Iran’s strong objection over the ruling was conveyed during the meeting between Iranian official and the Swiss envoy. Iranian official underlined that the ruling was against international laws and bilateral agreements,” the semi-official ILNA news agency quoted Foreign Ministry as saying. The Swiss embassy represents U.S. interests in Iran, because Washington has not had a mission there since hardline Iranian students seized American embassy shortly after Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution and took 52 Americans hostage for 444 days. The U.S. Supreme Court found that Congress had not usurped the authority of the courts by passing a law in 2012 stating that the frozen funds should go toward satisfying a $2.65 billion judgment against Iran won by the families in a U.S. federal court in 2007. The ruling would affect, among others, the families of 241 U.S. soldiers killed in truck bomb attacks on a U.S. Marine Corps barracks in Beirut in October 1983.


Newsline: Saudi Arabia may open Israel embassy if peace plan accepted

A well-connected former general in the Saudi military has said the kingdom would open an embassy in Tel Aviv if Israel accepted a Saudi initiative to end the Middle East conflict. Anwar Eshki was asked during an Al Jazeera interview how long it would be before Riyadh would open an embassy in Israel. “You can ask Mr. Netanyahu,” Eshki replied, referring to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Jerusalem Post reported on its website. “If he announces that he accepts the initiative and gives all rights to Palestinians, Saudi Arabia will start to make an embassy in Tel Aviv,” Eshki said. Eshki met publicly in June with Dore Gold just before the latter was appointed director-general of the Israeli foreign ministry. Gold said then Israel had contacts with “almost every Arab state.” In the interview, Eshki said the Saudis are not interested in “Israel becoming isolated in the region.” Saudi Arabia first proposed the peace initiative in 2002, offering Arab recognition of Israel in exchange for Israel’s withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza Strip.


Newsline: US Top Diplomat Condemns Murder of Activist, Embassy Employee in Bangladesh

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has condemned the murder of Bangladeshi gay rights activist Xulhaz Mannan, who was an employee of the U.S. embassy in Dhaka. Kerry said in a statement late Monday: “We are profoundly saddened by the loss of one of our own in such a senseless act of violence.” He also said Xulhaz “embodied the spirit of the people of Bangladesh and the pride with which they guard their traditions of tolerance, peace, and diversity.” USAID official Mannan, who also worked as a protocol officer in the U.S. embassy in Dhaka, was at his home with his friend, Mehboob Rabbi Tanoy, when five attackers arrived, disguised as couriers and pounced on them with machetes. Mannan, 35, who was the editor of the country’s only gay and transgender magazine Roopban, and fellow gay rights activist and theater worker, Tanoy, 26, died on the spot. Earlier this month, Mannan said he had been receiving online death threats from Islamists opposed to his rights activities. The U.S. State Department said, “We are outraged” by the killings, and Marcia Bernicat, U.S. ambassador to Bangladesh, said she is “devastated by the brutal murder” of Mannan and Tanoy. “Xulhaz was more than a colleague to those of us fortunate to work with him at the U.S. Embassy. He was a dear friend,” the ambassador said in a statement.



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