Diplomatic Briefing

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Archive for March 9, 2011

Commentary: EU Top Diplomat Spends Millions on PR

Lady Ashton has mixed priorities – to put it kindly. Recently, the UK diplomat decided to spend no less than £8.5 million for less orthodox PR activities meant to promote her new EU diplomatic service. The money, is not designated for media outreach, or advertising, as you’d expect, but for propaganda videos, and… for entertaining VIP visits, lunches or dinners, with “three courses with waiter service and wine”, and receptions with “champagne and top-of-the-range appetizers.” Nothing unusual, except that the propaganda aims “to illustrate to the general public the increasing importance of the role of the EU as a global actor in peace building and crisis management,” after Baroness Ashton left the post of special EU envoy to the Middle East empty. The position was held by Marc Otte whose term ended this week, and so far no replacement has been announced. Instead, Lady Ashton decided to spend on spin, pumping more money in PR and propaganda and hiring an outside PR firm for the purpose, despite the fact that she already has two spokesmen, a full time media adviser and a strategic communications director, plus the free use of the European Commission’s 909-strong communications staff. And let’s not forget that Baroness Ashton is the world’s highest-paid female politician, with an annual salary of £230,000. Naturally, one wonders what these people are doing, or better yet, why are they not doing their jobs efficiently enough to spare unnecessary spendings? At a time when the Middle East “boils,” spending on propaganda seems a bit inappropriate.



Newsline: Romanian diplomat charged with manslaughter

A Bucharest court ruled Wednesday that witnesses in Singapore can be heard via videolink in the case of a Romanian diplomat charged with manslaughter after a hit-and-run car crash there. Silviu Ionescu, a former Romanian charge d’affaire in the state city, is charged with manslaughter, causing physical injuries and making false statements after the accident in December 2009. Ionescu pleads not guilty. He has always denied he was the driver and says the car was stolen. The diplomat is alleged to have hit three pedestrians while driving a car belonging to the Romanian mission and to have fled the scene. One pedestrian, a 30-year-old Malaysian national, suffered brain damage and died on Christmas Day. One of the victim’s friends, Bonghwee Haw, a 23-year-old Malaysian who was also severely injured in the crash, will testify through a videolink on May 6, the judge ruled. Another pedestrian injured in the crash, Yenny Young, will be heard the same day also through videolink. A further 20 witnesses from Singapore are also expected to testify between May 12 and May 20. Ionescu’s trial started on October 6 last year in front of a Bucharest court.



Newsline: Obama taps new China envoy

Gary Locke, the son and grandson of Chinese immigrants who became Washington’s governor and secretary of commerce, will likely return to the home of his ancestors to be the U.S.’s top representative there. President Obama on Wednesday officially announced Locke as his pick to be ambassador to China. Word of the selection leaked out earlier in the week. “I can think of nobody who is more qualified than Gary Locke. More than 100 years ago, Gary’s grandfather left China on a steamship bound for America,” Obama said at a White House briefing with Secretary of State Hilliary Clinton and Locke at his side. Obama praised Locke’s work as commerce secretary saying “he has earned the trust of business leaders across American by listening to their concerns.” Business leaders can count on Locke to represent them in China, the president said. He noted that China’s relationship with the U.S. is one of the most critical in the 21st century.



Consular affairs: South Korea’s FM apologises over Shanghai’s consulate sex scandal

The skyline of the Shanghai’s financial district. South Korea’s foreign minister has apologised over an alleged steamy sex-for-favours scandal that has rocked the country’s consulate in Shanghai. “I feel very ashamed of a scandalous affair at our consulate in Shanghai,” Foreign Minister Kim Sung-Hwan told a parliamentary session. He said the government would launch a special joint investigation into the scandal involving three Korean diplomats who are now in Seoul after leaving their posts in China’s biggest city. Media reports say the three were suspected of having affairs with the same Chinese woman, who allegedly used her influence over them in seeking visas for Chinese workers. The woman’s exact role and motives remain unclear. She was also said to have received confidential information such as mobile phone numbers for leading members of South Korea’s ruling party and other high-profile figures. The case of what one paper described as the “sexy Shanghai siren” hit the headlines this week. Reports say the tip-off came from the Korean husband of the Chinese woman, who wrote to the Seoul government to complain about the diplomats’ allegedly intimate relations with his wife. He presented pictures of her taken with each of the diplomats, which have now been splashed across front pages in Seoul. The three — who were summoned back to Seoul — have denied they had affairs with the woman, who reportedly acted as a conduit to senior Chinese officials and arranged meetings with visitors from Seoul. In November 2008 she reportedly used her influence to ensure that Beijing allowed 11 North Korean escapees who took refuge at the consular office to leave for Seoul en masse. The Korea JoongAng Daily, in an editorial headlined “The scandal in Shanghai”, said the case “sounds like a steamy soap opera involving infidelity, secrets and a femme fatale”. It called on the government to “correct the moral standards of our diplomats” and fix problems associated with visa issuance.



Newsline: Cop at US consulate in Mumbai killed in ‘freak’ firing

A twenty-nine-year-old constable posted at the American Consulate died on Monday morning when two bullets from his service gun pierced through his skull. The officials are now trying to ascertain whether Deepak Vitkare killed himself or it was an accident. The Gamdevi police have registered a case of accidental death. Incidentally, Vitkare was supposed to get married on May 15. “The constable was posted at the rear of the consulate building. We are yet to find out if it was a suicide or his gun fired accidentally,” JCP (law and order) Rajnish Seth said. It was around 7.30 am, when policemen on the premises of the consulate at Breach Candy heard a bang of the bullet. They rushed to the spot to find a bloodied Vitkare whom they took to Breach Candy Hospital where he died during treatment. Two bullets had pierced from his chin and shattered the skull, the police said.



Newsline: Spanish banks close Iran’s embassy accounts

Two Spanish banks have frozen the bank account of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s embassy in Madrid. Banco Santander has notified the Iranian embassy officials to withdraw the embassy’s money from the bank within maximum one month. Following the withdrawal of the money, the embassy’s account was blocked. The Iranian embassy officials then went ahead to open a new account with a branch of la Caixa. However, la Caixa also stopped all the banking transactions with the embassy’s account last Friday and finally froze it on Monday. The freezing of the embassy’s accounts has caused many problems for the Iranians. The two banks’ officials have announced that they took the actions due to the sanctions imposed against Iran. The banks have so far not frozen the Iranians’ personal accounts, including the Madrid embassy staffs. However, they have made the opening of any new account for Iranians contingent upon the authorization of the country’s High Banking Council and, eventually, all such requests are rejected.


Newsline: UK ‘James Bond’ diplomacy in Libya raises eyebrows

UK Foreign secretary William Hague has assumed formal responsibility for Britain’s disastrous attempt to put armed SAS and MI6 officers in Libyan rebel areas but distanced himself from the decision by saying he had acted on professional and military advice. The foreign secretary came under intense criticism in the Commons over the botched mission to make diplomatic contact with rebels as Labour claimed it was symptomatic of his “serial bungling” over the Libyan issue. The former Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell described the operation involving a helicopter drop in of two MI6 officers and six SAS members in the dead of night as “ill-conceived, poorly planned and embarrassingly executed”. Libyan rebel leaders said they were puzzled by what they said was a weird British operation. The heavily armed UK team were kept under house arrest for four days before being released. The fallout from the operation, which could have been a straightforward attempt to build diplomatic links with well-disposed rebels, has raised concerns of a loss of British credibility and damage to David Cameron’s efforts to build a strong European Union alliance against the Gaddafi regime at a special European council on Friday. EU diplomats were puzzled by the unilateral act of James Bond diplomacy. The former senior British diplomat Emyr Jones Parry said he found it “difficult to fathom” why the Foreign Office had not contacted the provisional council in Benghazi to say UK diplomats with military protection would be coming to Benghazi to meet senior figures. Hague said he had authorised what he had described as a “diplomatic mission to eastern Libya with protection”. He said: “When our staff go into a potentially dangerous situation, then the level of protection is provided for them based on professional and military advice. I authorised such a mission to be made, to put a diplomatic team into eastern Libya, as I explained, with protection”. One member of the interim ruling council in Benghazi said suspicions about the intentions of the group of two diplomats and six SAS soldiers, who were released on Sunday, were heightened by Britain’s role in training Muammar Gaddafi’s forces in recent years. The ruling council said that while it welcomes contact with foreign governments – and has called on them to recognise the revolutionary leaders as the legitimate rulers of Libya – the British landing had been “illegal”. “It’s just people coming from the sky and saying: we want to negotiate,” said Iman Bugaighis, a spokesman for the council. “They said they want to see the new government. “But it was really weird because there are other ways to negotiate than landing by helicopter in a field without telling us you’re coming. They said they just wanted to explore the new government. They didn’t have any details.” To add to the humiliation of the British team being captured by a group of young rebels, Bugaighis said that the officials did not seem to know who they wanted to meet. Fathi Baja, a member of the interim revolutionary council, said that people in the newly liberated areas of Libya were suspicious of the landing because of a broad concern about the role of mercenaries fighting in support of Gaddafi.