Diplomatic Briefing

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Archive for April, 2012

Newsline: US mission to China not halted over dissident

US secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner have no plans to cancel their trip to China this week, according to the State Department, amid reports that the US is protecting a fugitive Chinese dissident in its Beijing embassy. Last week legal activist Chen Guangcheng escaped house arrest in Shandong province, where he had been held since his release from prison in September 2010, Texas-based human rights group ChinaAid reported. He was imprisoned for reporting on forced abortions and sterilisations in China. Ms Clinton and Mr Geithner are due to arrive in Beijing for annual talks on Thursday and Friday. US Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell arrived in Beijing yesterday — earlier than planned, reports said.


Newsline: Egypt Seeks To Woo Back Saudi Ambassador

Saudi Arabia is reported to be reconsidering the decision to recall its ambassador to Egypt, after leaders in Cairo worked to heal a rift between the Arab neighbors. The Saudis closed their mission in Egypt following anti-Saudi protests there. Egypt’s de-facto leader, Field Marshall Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, reached out to officials in Saudi Arabia in an attempt “to contain the situation.” Egyptian state media said he began efforts to heal the rift within hours of the Saudi decision Saturday to bring its ambassador back home. Protesters had besieged the embassy in Cairo and other Saudi missions around Egypt for several days last week, protesting the detention of Egyptian human-rights lawyer Ahmed el-Gezawi. His supporters say he is being held in retaliation for a lawsuit he filed against the Saudi monarchy over the treatment of Egyptian workers in the kingdom. Saudi officials counter that Gezawi was trying to smuggle in vast quantities of a banned anti-anxiety medication. The diplomatic rift is the worst in decades between two of the most influential Arab nations, and caught many average Egyptians by surprise.


Newsline: UK embassy investigates arrest of Briton in Sudan

The British embassy was “urgently” investigating on Sunday the arrest in Sudan of one of its citizens, who was among four foreigners the Sudanese military said it captured in the tense Heglig oil region. “We are urgently investigating the arrest of a British national in Sudan,” an embassy spokesperson told AFP. “We immediately requested consular access”. Sudanese army spokesman, Sawarmi Khaled Saad, on Saturday identified the foreigners as a Briton, a Norwegian, a South African and a South Sudanese. “We captured them inside Sudan’s borders, in the Heglig area, and they were collecting war debris for investigation,” Saad said after the four were brought to the capital Khartoum. A colleague of one of the men said they were deminers working on the South Sudanese side of the border. The four were on a de-mining mission “and one of them was from the UN”, said Josephine Guerrero, a spokeswoman for the United Nations Mission in South Sudan. “We’re uncertain of the circumstances,” she added. In the most serious fighting since the South’s independence, Juba’s troops occupied Sudan’s main oil region of Heglig for 10 days, a move which coincided with Sudanese air strikes against the South. Sudan declared on April 20 that its troops had forced the Southern soldiers out of Heglig, but the South said it withdrew of its own accord. South Sudan broke away from Sudan in July last year after a peace deal ended one of Africa’s longest civil wars, which killed about two million people between 1983 and 2005.


Newsline: Saudi Arabia shuts down embassy in Egypt

Saudi Arabia closed its embassy in Egypt and recalled its ambassador following protests over a detained Egyptian human rights lawyer in a sharp escalation of tension between two regional powerhouses already on shaky terms because of uprisings in the Arab world. The unexpected Saudi diplomatic break came following protests by Egyptians outside the Saudi Embassy in Cairo to demand the release of Ahmed el-Gezawi. Relatives and human rights groups say he was detained for allegedly insulting the kingdom’s monarch. Saudi authorities said he was arrested for trying to smuggle antianxiety drugs into the conservative kingdom. Egypt’s military ruler, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, has asked King Abdullah to reconsider the decision, the Saudi news agency reported. The news agency said the king would look into the matter.


Commentary: Dissident’s case poses diplomatic test for U.S. and China

When Hillary Clinton made her first trip abroad as secretary of state, she baldly said the United States could not let human rights disputes get in the way of working with China on global challenges. Now that the blind Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng is under U.S. protection in Beijing, according to a U.S.-based rights group, the United States will find out if China has made the same calculation. Chen’s escape after 19 months of house arrest and apparent request for U.S. protection comes at a vexing time for both countries, with diplomats preparing for annual economic and security talks in Beijing this week, and with China’s Communist Party trying to contain a divisive political scandal involving a former senior official, Bo Xilai. Assuming it has Chen, it is inconceivable that the United States would turn him over to the Chinese authorities against his wishes, said current and former U.S. officials. That leaves China with a choice – let the broader relationship suffer in a standoff with the United States, or seek a compromise, a scenario analysts, current and former officials saw as probable though by no means certain. As of Sunday, the United States has not publicly confirmed reports that Chen fled from house arrest in his village home in Shandong province into the U.S. embassy. China has also declined direct comment on the dissident’s reported escape from his carefully watched home. The incident will form an unwelcome backdrop for the visit of the U.S. secretaries of state and treasury to Beijing for their Strategic and Economic Dialogue on Thursday and Friday. The reports of Chen’s escape also come nearly three months after a Chinese official Wang Lijun fled into the U.S. consulate in Chengdu for over 24 hours, unleashing the Bo Xilai scandal that has rattled the ruling Communist Party months before a once-in-a-decade leadership handover.


Newsline: Abkhazia opens embassy in Nicaragua

Georgia’s breakaway region Abkhazia has opened an embassy in Nicaragua. According to Apsnypress, Abkhazia’s ambassador to Venezuela, Zaur Gvajava, will also take on the function as ambassador to Nicaragua. Nicaragua will help Abkhazians in their relations with other countries and will offer support in their attempts at getting recognition for Abkhazia’s independence, Zaur Gvajava said. He notes that a so-called foreign affairs delegation will arrive from 20 to 27 May and sign an agreement about visa-freedom. “The document is already prepared and only signatures are necessary.” Also Georgia’s other breakaway region, South Ossetia, have opened an embassy in Nicaragua, thereby establishing diplomatic relations. Ambassador will be Namir Kozayev, who is also ambassador to Venezuela. Officials in Tbilisi say nothing has changed legally by this. On August 26, after a five-day war in August 2008, Russia recognized the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. In total, five countries have recognized the separatist regions. Nicaragua was first to follow Russia on September 5, 2008. The President of Venezuela followed suit in September 2009, and after him, the Pacific island states of Nauru and Vanuatu. The Republic of Vanuatu is located on 83 islands in the Pacific Ocean. Its area is 12 000 square kilometers, and the population was 243 000 in 2009. In the western part of the Pacific is Nauru with a population of 14 000.


Newsline: Blind Chinese activist under US embassy protection

A blind legal activist who fled house arrest in his rural China village is under the protection of U.S. officials and high-level talks are taking place between the countries about his fate, an overseas activist group said Saturday. The whereabouts of Chen Guangcheng — amid unconfirmed reports that he sought protection at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing — could be a major political complication for the two countries, with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and other top U.S. officials due to arrive in China this coming week for the latest round of the Strategic and Economic Dialogue. “Chen is under U.S. protection and high-level talks are currently under way between U.S. and Chinese officials regarding Chen’s status,” said a statement from the ChinaAid Association. It cited a source close to the situation. The U.S. Embassy in Beijing declined to comment Saturday, as have U.S. officials in Washington. Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai told a briefing earlier Saturday on the upcoming talks with the U.S. that he had no information on Chen’s case. If Chen is in the U.S. Embassy or with U.S. officials at another location, it is not known how he would be able to leave or where he could go without Chinese permission. In 1989, when Fang Lizhi, whose speeches inspired student protesters throughout the 1980s, fled with his wife to the U.S. Embassy after China’s 1989 military crackdown on the pro-democracy movement, he was forced to stay there for 13 months while the countries discussed his fate.


Newsline: South Sudan Inaugurates Embassy in China

President Kiir on his visit to China inaugurated the South Sudan Embassy located in Beijing, China’s Capital City. The ceremony was attended by diplomats of foreign missions accredited to the People’s Republic of China. According to President Kiir, the presence of this embassy in China is a signal to a new chapter for the people and the governments of the two countries. The presence of the embassy will help to strengthen the bilateral relations between the two countries and South Sudan hopes that relations between the two countries will be for mutual benefit in trade, economy, technology, people to people contacts on business opportunities as well as tourism.


Newsline: Talks under way to reopen Irish embassy in Vatican

Talks aimed at re-opening the Vatican embassy in Rome on the same site as the Italian embassy are taking place with church authorities, according to the head of the Department of Foreign Affairs. David Cooney — who is also Ireland’s non-resident ambassador since the embassy closed — told the Dail Public Accounts Committee that the Vatican has rules against a country having one embassy or ambassador serving both Italy and the Holy See. Other countries have been allowed house their Italian and Vatican embassies in the one building. But Mr Cooney said he had been talking to Vatican officials on the possibility that Ireland could use Villa Spada in Rome, which housed the Vatican embassy, for both, adding that it depended on more resources being made available. However, he was adopting an approach of “the less said, the better”, since the Vatican would be more likely to relax its rules for Ireland if the negotiations didn’t draw the attention of other countries seeking similar treatment. He also said nobody in Government asked his department to close the embassy, and insisted it was on a cost-cutting shortlist drawn up by his officials. As part of budget cutbacks, Mr Cooney said his department came up with a number of options, which included closing embassies in East Timor and the Vatican together, or East Timor, the Vatican and Tehran, Iran, together.


Newsline: Embassy in Brussels promoted event on avoiding Irish taxes

Details of an event advising Irish expats living in Belgium on how to transfer Irish pension schemes to other EU jurisdictions to avoid paying Irish taxes have been circulated through the official emailing list of Ireland’s Embassy in Belgium. The email, sent on April 19th by a local staff member at the embassy in Brussels, informed those on the mailing list of “an information event about the pension scheme in Ireland” due to be hosted by the Irish Club of Belgium at the Holiday Inn hotel in Brussels on May 15th. “If you have a pension in Ireland please see the second attachment for more details. Kind regards, Embassy of Ireland,” the email read. The information sheet from the deVere Group and STM Malta talked of the “significant advantages” of transferring Irish pension schemes to a “safe EU jurisdiction” such as Malta. It notes that the pensions levy announced in May 2011 and retrospectively enforced from January 1st, 2011, “could be as much as 10 per cent of your pension fund”. It advises readers they are entitled to transfer their pensions to an overseas scheme under the Occupational Pension Schemes and PRSA (overseas transfer payments) Regulations 2003. This scheme, it notes, will not be subject to the pensions levy. “If you live outside Ireland, transferring your pension to a STM Malta QROPS (Qualifying Recognised Overseas Pension Scheme) will avoid ALL Irish taxes,” it said. In a statement, a spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs said the message was circulated by a member of the embassy’s local staff acting in good faith at the request of the Irish Club of Belgium. “It was inappropriate for the embassy to appear to promote the event in question and steps have been taken to ensure that a similar mistake does not happen again,” the spokesman said.



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