Diplomatic Briefing

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Archive for July, 2017

Newsline: Russia orders US embassy in Moscow to cut staff by 755

President Vladimir V. Putin announced Sunday that the American diplomatic mission in Russia must reduce its staff by 755 employees, an aggressive response to new American sanctions that seemed ripped right from the Cold War playbook and sure to increase tensions between the two capitals. In making the announcement, Mr. Putin said Russia had run out of patience waiting for relations with the United States to improve. “We waited for quite a long time that, perhaps, something will change for the better, we held out hope that the situation would somehow change,” Mr. Putin said in an interview on state-run Rossiya 1 television, which published a Russian-language transcript on its website. “But, judging by everything, if it changes, it will not be soon.” Mr. Putin said the staff reduction was meant to cause real discomfort for Washington and its representatives in Moscow. “Over 1,000 employees — diplomats and technical workers — worked and continue to work today in Russia; 755 will have to stop this activity,” he said. The measures were the harshest such diplomatic move since a similar rupture in 1986, in the waning days of the Soviet Union. Washington’s response on Sunday was muted. “This is a regrettable and uncalled-for act,” the State Department said in a statement. “We are assessing the impact of such a limitation and how we will respond to it.”


Newsline: Attack near Iraqi embassy in Kabul reported

A suicide bomber has attacked a police compound and the nearby Iraqi embassy in Kabul on Monday, security officials in the Afghan capital say. Sources tell Al Jazeera that fighters are holed up in a building close to the Iraqi embassy in Shar-e-Naw and a gun battle is under way. “We heard two explosions near the Iraqi embassy and part of the building has been damaged,” Mohsen Negaresh, a witness, told Al Jazeera. Police confirmed the blast had taken place, but said they did not immediately have further information. The attack comes a week after at least 35 people were killed in a suicide attack on government workers in Kabul and underlines the precarious security in Afghanistan as the US administration considers an overhaul of its policy in the region.


Newsline: Jordanian protesters demand closure of Israel’s embassy

Protesters gathered near the Israeli Embassy in the Jordanian capital Amman, angry that an Israeli embassy guard who shot dead a Jordanian had returned to Israel and been granted diplomatic immunity. A Reuters witness said around 200 people had assembled peacefully in the vicinity of the embassy. Scores chanted, “Death to Israel,” and called for the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador and scrapping of a peace treaty with Israel. A heavy Jordanian police presence had sealed off the area around the embassy so the protesters gathered nearby. Lasy Sunday an embassy guard shot dead Jordanian teenager Mohammad Jawawdah as well as the landlord of the house in the compound where the guard lived. Israel said the guard had been defending himself after Jawawdah assaulted him with a screwdriver in a “terrorist attack.” Israel is examining the July 23 incident, in accordance with its usual legal procedures. The offices of the state prosecutor and the attorney general have asked all parties connected to the incident hand over all relevant material. Israel plans to update Jordan on its examination of the incident.


Newsline: Russia Seizes 2 U.S. Properties and Orders Embassy to Cut Staff

Russia took its first steps on Friday to retaliate against proposed American sanctions for Moscow’s suspected meddling in the 2016 election, seizing two American diplomatic properties in Russia and ordering the United States Embassy to reduce staff by September. Starting on Tuesday, Russia will block access to a warehouse in Moscow used by the United States Embassy and to a bucolic site along the Moscow River where staff members walk their dogs and hold barbecues. The moves, which had been threatened for weeks, came a day after the United States Senate approved a measure to expand economic sanctions against Russia, as well as against Iran and North Korea. The White House announced late Friday that President Trump would sign the bill. The latest move by the Kremlin strikes another blow against the already dismal diplomatic relations between the two sides, with each new step moving Moscow and Washington further from the rapprochement anticipated a few months ago. “Russia’s response to the new sanctions was inevitable,” Aleksei Pushkov, a Russian legislator and frequent commentator on international affairs, wrote Friday on Twitter. “There is a high probability that this will not be the end of it.”

Newsline: Jordan’s King Abdullah II slams Netanyahu over embassy killings

Jordan’s Abdullah II has demanded a trial against the security guard who had killed two Jordanians within the Israeli embassy in Amman. The monarch also accused Netanyahu of treating the case as a “political show.” People in Jordan were “infuriated” by Israel’s response to the double killing, Jordanian King Abdullah II said on Thursday. Tensions between the two countries have been running at the fever pitch since Sunday evening, when an Israeli security guard shot and killed two Jordanians in an apartment on embassy grounds. One of them was a teenage worker who was in the building to install furniture. Israeli officials claim that the teenager attacked the guard with a screwdriver, causing the embassy employee to open fire. The other victim was reportedly killed by accident. With the guard protected by diplomatic immunity, Israel was able to repatriate him on Monday. He and the Israeli ambassador were then warmly welcomed by Israel’s right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who said he was “happy” to see the staffer back in his homeland. “You acted well, calmly, and we also had an obligation to get you out,” Netanyahu told the guard after embracing him.


Newsline: US Orders Relatives of Embassy Staff in Venezuela to Leave Country

The State Department on Thursday ordered family members of American government employees working at the United States Embassy in Caracas to leave the country and gave the employees the option to join them before a controversial vote to begin rewriting Venezuela’s Constitution. The State Department said it had made the decision, along with an expanded travel warning, “due to social unrest, violent crime and pervasive food and medicine shortages” in Venezuela. The warning comes as the United States and Venezuela approach a showdown over a vote scheduled for Sunday that could lead to a restructuring of Venezuela’s government. President Nicolás Maduro has ordered the creation of a new body, known as a constituent assembly, which would rule above all other government branches for a period of time in which it would also rewrite the Constitution. Critics of the plan, including the Trump administration, describe the vote as a power grab that would lay the groundwork for a dictatorship. On Wednesday, the US administration issued sanctions against 13 Venezuelans connected to Mr. Maduro, including his interior minister and leaders of the army. President Trump has warned that if Mr. Maduro proceeds with the vote, he will impose “strong and swift economic actions.”

Newsline: Jordan says Israeli embassy staff can’t return unless guard is tried

Jordan will not allow the return of staff to the Israeli embassy in Amman without a guarantee that an Israeli security guard who killed two Jordanians as he allegedly defended himself from an attack will stand trial in Israel, Jordanian media reported on Thursday. Israel’s ambassador in Amman, Einat Schlein, and her staff at the embassy, left Jordan on Monday due to tensions between Israel and Jordan following the incident. The Jordanian daily al-Ghad quoted unidentified sources who said Schlein and her staff would not be permitted to return to Jordan until Israel supplied “full and complete guarantees” it would try the guard. The head of the Hashemite Royal Court, Fayez Tarawneh, told the Jordanian daily that he would continue to follow the case in accordance with international laws and diplomatic norms until justice is served. Israel’s Foreign Ministry said the guard, named only as Ziv, was stabbed by 17-year-old Mohammed Jawawdeh, who was in an embassy residence installing a bedroom set Sunday evening. Ziv opened fire on Jawawdeh, killing him and a second man, Bashar Hamarneh, at the site, in self-defense, the ministry said.