Diplomatic Briefing

Your exclusive news aggregator handpicked daily!

Archive for October, 2011

Newsline: Iran Demands Apology From U.S. Over Claims Iran Was Involved in Plot to Kill Saudi Ambassador

Iran has formally complained to theU.S.over claims the Iranian government was involved in an alleged plot to kill Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to theUnited States, a U.S. official said. The official said the U.S. received a diplomatic note expressing displeasure with the charges that were leveled earlier this month.Iranhas already denied the allegations. The official said the note was delivered through the Swiss embassy inTehran, which represents U.S. interests in Iran since the two countries don’t have diplomatic relations. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a private diplomatic exchange. Earlier this month,U.S.officials claimed agents linked to Iran’s Quds Force — an elite wing of the powerful Revolutionary Guard — were involved in the suspected plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to the U.S., Adel Al-Jubeir.




Newsline:U.S.Embassy air quality data undercut China’s own assessments

Perched atop the U.S. Embassy in Beijing is a device about the size of a microwave oven that spits out hourly rebukes to the Chinese government. It is a machine that monitors fine particulate matter, one of the most dangerous components of air pollution, and instantly posts the results to Twitter and a dedicated iPhone application, where it is frequently picked up by Chinese bloggers. One day this month, the reading was so high compared with the standards set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that it was listed as “beyond index.” In other words, it had soared right off the chart. “You couldn’t get such a high level in the United States unless you were downwind from a forest fire,” said Dane Westerdahl, an air quality expert from Cornell University. But China’s own assessment that day, Oct. 9, was that Beijing’s air was merely “slightly polluted.” Not even the most fervent propagandist would call the city’s air clean, but the Chinese government made great efforts to improve air quality for the 2008 Olympic Summer Games. Beijing authorities moved huge steelworks out of the capital, switched city dwellers from coal to natural gas heating, raised emissions standards for trucks, and created new subway and bus lines. The cost of the cleanup was estimated at $10 billion, not including the investment in mass transit.Three years later, the difference between the Americans and the Chinese is at least in part about what they’re measuring. And it highlights the rapid growth in the number of cars in Beijing. The U.S. monitor tracks tinier particles — less than 2.5 micrometers — that physicians say are capable of penetrating human lungs and other organs. Car and truck exhaust is a major source of fine particulate pollution, a particular problem in Beijing, where the number of registered cars has skyrocketed from to 5 million from 3.5 million in 2008. When an American doctor at Beijing United Family Hospital recommended this month on his blog that people wear face masks, the Communist Party-affiliated Global Times newspaper ran an article rebuking him. The newspaper quoted an anonymous doctor at Peking University People’s Hospital as saying, “The suggestion to wear air masks will make trouble out of nothing, as we’ve had polluted air for a long time, and we shouldn’t be living with an American standard.” Diplomatic cables released this year through WikiLeaks reveal that the Chinese government has asked the U.S. Embassy to stop publishing its data, which is posted hourly on Twitter at @beijingair, an account that has 9,200 followers. In July 2009, a Foreign Ministry official complained that because the U.S. data conflicted with China’s, they were causing “confusion” and undesirable “social consequences.” The embassy ended up reporting that off-the-charts reading as “crazy bad.” (Embassy officials say a computer programmer with a sense of humor embedded the language in the program linking the monitor to Twitter without realizing it would ever get used.) The embassy quickly deleted the tweet and replaced it with “beyond index,” but the fanciful description stuck in the imagination.



Newsline: Arrests in Serbia after attack on U.S. Embassy in Bosnia

Police say 15 people suspected of belonging to an extremist Islamic sect have been detained in southern Serbia. The arrests in Sandzak early Saturday were made after a man from the Muslim-dominated region of Serbia fire with an automatic weapon outside the U.S. Embassy in neighbouring Bosnia Friday in what authorities called a terrorist attack. A policeman and the gunman were wounded. The embassy said none of its employees was hurt. The shooter was identified as Mevlid Jasarevic from Novi Pazar, the administrative capital of Sandzak. Serbian officials say he is the follower of the Wahhabis, a conservative Islamic sect that is rooted inSaudi Arabiaand linked to religious militants in parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan.



Newsline: US diplomat suspended for book

The US State Department has suspended a veteran diplomat for a book critical of US policy in Iraq and irreverent blog posts that included a link to a WikiLeaks cable. Peter Van Buren, a 23-year foreign service officer who worked in human relations, said he was escorted out of the State Department on Monday and barred from returning for two days while officials there decide what to do next with him. They had stripped him of his top secret security clearance a few days earlier, he said. ‘We are unable to discuss individual personnel matters, and therefore have no comment about Mr Van Buren’s situation,’ State Department spokesman Mark Toner said. But in a phone interview with AFP, Van Buren said his irreverent account of his experiences in Iraq, in a book entitled ‘We Meant Well – How I Helped Lose the Battle for Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People,’ appeared to have precipitated the action. There were also articles he wrote for the Huffington Post and Salon.com, and blogs on his website, ‘WeMeantWell.com,’ which he freely admits were published without prior State Department permission. ‘The State Department said they need 30 working days in order to clear or approve any submission, and unfortunately that is out of the zone of reality for blogging and tweeting and Facebook updating,’ he said. ‘I submit it is nothing but a prior restraint on my free speech. I choose not to follow it, and I expect to be punished,’ he said. One blog post linked to a WikiLeaks cable describing a 2009 meeting Senator John McCain had with Moamer Gaddafi inTripoli. Van Buren said he wanted to make the point ‘how quickly enemies became friends, and friends became enemies again, and wondering what that meant about US foreign policy.’ ‘This was not the nuclear launch codes, or Hillary’s Victoria Secret catalog or anything like that. It was pretty mild stuff. I believe it was listed as ‘confidential,’ which is the lowest form of classification.’ Van Buren said he had submitted the book for pre-publication review more than a year ago, with no response, and began blogging in April of this year. It wasn’t until June that he was told he shouldn’t be blogging, and not until September 1 that they raised the WikiLeaks link. ‘That was followed by two interrogation sessions with our security people,’ he said. Then on September 20, they demanded redactions to his book, and followed that by suspending his security clearance. The redactions were to a chapter titled ‘A Spooky Dinner,’ which described a dinner with some CIA officials inBaghdadat one of Saddam Hussein’s former palaces. That demand was just six days before the book was to go to book stores, and he refused to comply.



Newsline: US setting up online embassy to reach Iranians

The Obama administration is setting up an Internet-based embassy to reach out to Iranians hoping to broaden their understanding of the United States. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton says the “virtual embassy inTehran” will be online by the end of the year. The site will aim to answer questions on traveling and studying in the U.S. Clinton said she wants to increase student visas for Iranians hoping to study at American schools. The U.S. hasn’t had an embassy in Iran since breaking off diplomatic relations shortly after the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Iran, likewise, has no embassy inWashington.



Newsline: Arab envoys meet with Assad

At least twenty-seven people, eleven of then soldiers, have died in further clashes as a general strike paralysed parts of Syria. In Hama unverified amateur video showed thousands on the streets calling one again for the over throw of President Bashar-al Assad. Assad meanwhile met with a delegation from the Arab League who recently refused to expel Syria from the organisation but insisted on a dialogue between the Syrian government and opposition representatives. Just down the hill from where the envoys met Assad in Damascus, the Syrian authorities organised a rally to show support for the president. The US’s ambassador recently left the country fearing for his safety after meeting independently with opposition groups in the country.



Newsline: State Department Defends $79,000 Purchase of Obama Memoirs

The U.S. State Department is defending its purchase of $79,000 worth of President Obama’s best-selling books, telling reporters that it’s not an unusual practice to provide books to distribute in diplomats’ host countries. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland added that the missions abroad, not Washington, decide which tomes to carry in their libraries or distribute as gifts to locals. “It’s the embassies themselves that make the decisions what American books to buy, and they make these decisions based on the interest in the country where they are,” Nuland told reporters. “These are not decisions that are made inWashington, and they are not decisions that are directed by Washington.” Obama wrote in his 1995 book “Dreams of My Father” that when he was nine years old he spent some time at the U.S. Embassy in Indonesia, and was bored by the reading material, which included World Bank reports, surveys and magazines. The Embassy inIndonesianow has about $4,800 worth of his books.