Diplomatic Briefing

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Archive for March 10, 2011

Newsline: US moves to shut down Libyan embassy in Washington

The United States said Thursday it was moving to shut down Libya’s embassy in Washington as international pressure builds for Libyan strongman Moamar Ghadafi to step down. “We are suspending our relationships with the existing Libyan embassy. So we expect them to end operating as the embassy of Libya,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told US lawmakers, stopping short of formally ending diplomatic relations. After a pro-democracy uprising erupted in Libya in mid-February, the United States evacuated its diplomats and shuttered its embassy, but US officials said at the time they would continue using Libya’s Washington embassy as a channel to the Ghadafi regime. Clinton did not say why Washington had changed course. The US State Department said February 28 it received word that Libya had fired its ambassador in Washington, Ali Aujali, after he defected to the opposition, and had replaced him with a regime supporter. But officials said that Washington still saw Aujali as Libya’s ambassador pending efforts to determine the “legitimacy” of a note apparently from the Libyan foreign ministry calling for his dismissal.



Newsline: US diplomat sacked over Okinawa ‘extortion’ remarks

The US has dismissed an American diplomat over his reported disparaging remarks about people on the Japanese island of Okinawa, news reports said Thursday. Washington replaced Kevin Maher, director of the State Department’s Office of Japan Affairs, with Rust Deming, a former deputy chief of mission at the US embassy in Tokyo, Kyodo News reported. The move came after his reported comments on Okinawans sparked outrage in Japan, aggravating the already-troubled relations between the two countries. According to Kyodo, Maher told a group of US university students and professor in December that Okinawans were ‘masters of manipulation and extortion’, apparently referring to government subsidies Tokyo gives Okinawa in exchange for hosting US military bases on the island. Maher, a former consul general in Okinawa, also said the Japanese islanders were ‘too lazy to grow goya’, referring to bitter gourd, a traditional vegetable on the island, Kyodo said, citing a written account compiled by some of the students who heard the lecture. Maher had told Kyodo that his briefing was an off-the-record event and the account was ‘neither accurate nor complete’. But David Vine, assistant professor of anthropology at the American University in Washington, and his students who attended the event said Maher did not say his comments were off the record, Kyodo said.



Newsline: Dan Shapiro to become next US ambassador to Israel

The White House officially announced that Dan Shapiro, one of US President Barack Obama’s advisers, will become the next US ambassador to Israel. Shapiro, born in 1969, has regularly traveled to Israel and worked closely with US Middle East envoy George Mitchell to try to forge an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal. Shapiro first began working with Obama when he coordinated Jewish outreach and advised his presidential campaign on Middle East issues. Shapiro, who speaks fluent Hebrew, has been a major point man for the US Jewish community in the White House, as well as for Israeli and Palestinian officials.



Newsline: 10 charged in killings of 3 tied to U.S. consulate

Federal authorities have charged 35 members and associates of a gang that operates in the El Paso-Juárez area on racketeering charges, including the killings last year of a worker at the U.S. Consulate in Ciudad Juárez and two others, the Justice Department says. Ten of the group, all Mexican nationals, were charged in the March 13, 2010, slayings of consulate employee Leslie Enriquez Catton, her husband, Arthur Redelfs, and Jorge Alberto Ceniceros, the husband of another consulate employee. Curiously, an alleged Barrio Azteca gang member who Mexican officials had said was a mastermind in the killings, Jesus Ernesto Chavez-Castillo, aka “El Camello,” isn’t among those charged despite being quietly extradited last September from Mexico to San Antonio in connection with the case. Chavez-Castillo had a closed, secret hearing in San Antonio before being shipped out of the city to an undisclosed location. Federal agents fanned out in West Texas and New Mexico to arrest 12 of the defendants who weren’t already in custody, officials said.



Newsline: Israeli veteran diplomat resigns

One eminent Israeli who apparently thinks the answer could be yes is Ilan Baruch, a veteran diplomat who resigned ahead of his retirement because, he said, he could no longer represent his government’s “wrong” policy. He also ridiculed Zionism’s assertion that global anti-Israeli sentiments generated by occupation are a manifestation of anti-Semitism. While serving as a tank platoon commander on the Suez Canal front, Baruch lost and eye and, Dayan-like, he wears a black eye-patch. His 30 years of service with Israel’s foreign ministry included postings to Singapore, Copenhagen and London and he served as ambassador to the Philippines and South Africa. In September 1993 he travelled with Prime Minister Rabin to Washington for the ceremony on the White House lawn which ended with the historic handshake after the signing of an interim agreement. On his return to Israel, Baruch set up and headed the foreign ministry’s desk dealing with economic relations with the Arab world. His own main focus was on relations with the Palestinians and the international donor community. According to the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, Baruch’s resignation was a diplomatic “earthquake” at the foreign ministry. In a personal letter he sent to all foreign ministry employees explaining his decision to quit, Baruch wrote: “Identifying the objection expressed by global public opinion to the occupation policy as anti-Semitic is simplistic, provincial and artificial. Experience shows that this global trend won’t change until we normalize our relations with the Palestinians.” And he gave this warning: “Should this trend continue, Israel will turn into a pariah state and face growing de-legitimization.”



Newsline: US State Department sorry over diplomat’s “lazy” remark

US Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell, seen here surrounded by reporters upon his arrival at the Narita international airport in suburban Tokyo, apologised to Japan for the “misunderstanding” caused after a civil servant reportedly called the people of Okinawa “lazy”. Kurt Campbell said the reported views of Kevin Maher, who heads the US State Department’s Japan desk, do not reflect the opinions of the US government. Maher’s remarks during an off-the-record speech in Washington in December provoked ire throughout Japan after they were published by Japanese media, who cited notes provided by students attending the talk. He reportedly said the people of Okinawa, which hosts a number of US bases, were “lazy’ and “masters of manipulation and extortion” in the way they seek compensation from Tokyo. Washington has not confirmed the accuracy of the remarks, but Campbell, the US assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, said he “personally apologised” for the incident. Campbell said he offered “deep regret for the misunderstanding that has taken place.” “The alleged statements in no way reflect the US government’s policy or indeed the deep feelings of Americans toward the people of Okinawa,” he said upon arriving in Japan, where he is set to meet his Japanese diplomatic and defence counterparts. Maher’s reported remarks have caused a storm in Japan, particularly among residents of Okinawa, which reluctantly hosts more than half of the 47,000 US troops stationed in the country.



Newsline: Canadian Embassy officials in Beijing wary of fake Chinese chefs

Canadian Embassy officials in Beijing have turned up the heat on Chinese nationals posing as chefs to fraudulently obtain visas to enter Ontario under a provincial work program. The so-called Chinese dim sum and gourmet cooks use phoney letters they claim are from Canadian restaurants offering them a job because of their skill. The letters are given to embassy officials to obtain a visa under a provincial nominee program since there is a demand for the cooks in Ontario. Documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by lawyer Richard Kurland show smugglers are abusing the program to slip people into Canada. “Beijing has experienced a consistent incidence of fraud for cases submitted under the provincial nominee category,” said a report that was drafted by immigration official, Francesca Imperato. The April 2010 “Fraud in the Provincial Nominee Program in Beijing” report said in 2009, about 129 cases were refused visas due to misrepresentation.