Diplomatic Briefing

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Archive for June, 2019

Newsline: U.S. Sanctions Threat Still Looms Over Iran’s Top Diplomat

The Trump administration’s threat to sanction Iran’s top diplomat, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, singles out the official European allies have looked to as they try to keep the clerical government in compliance with the 2015 nuclear agreement. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on June 24 the administration would levy penalties by the end of the week against Mr. Zarif, one of Iran’s most recognizable government officials. It was an unusual announcement, given that Treasury officials in other cases keep such decisions under wraps so targets don’t have a chance to shift their assets. However, U.S. officials by week’s end hadn’t taken action against Mr. Zarif, and Treasury officials on June 28 wouldn’t comment on whether action was imminent and what it might entail. (https://www.wsj.com/articles/u-s-sanctions-threat-still-looms-over-irans-top-diplomat-11561806003) European governments have sought more information from the U.S. about the coming sanctions, which could affect Mr. Zarif’s ability to conduct diplomacy, foreign officials said. European allies hope the U.S. will impose “minimal penalties” against Mr. Zarif so as not to complicate his ability to engage with the West as Iran’s main interlocutor, the foreign officials said. The threat to sanction Mr. Zarif was seen by some former U.S. officials and experts as a Trump administration message to European allies as the two sides split over the approach to Iran. Europe is seeking to keep the 2015 international nuclear agreement with Iran intact. Washington wants to get broad support behind punitive economic measures in the hope of pressing Iran to accept a new and more stringent agreement. Travel restrictions on Mr. Zarif are likely to be limited, according to Trump administration officials, although Mr. Zarif’s assets are likely to be frozen. What assets Mr. Zarif may have within U.S. reach aren’t known. The Iranian official is a polished diplomat who speaks fluent English and frequently relies on a disarming sense of humor. Mr. Zarif attended prep school and college in California and earned a Ph.D. in 1988 from the University of Denver. His thesis was titled “Self-defense in international law and policy.” He is a frequent visitor to international capitals and made a series of well-publicized appearances in New York in April.

Newsline: U.S. Supreme Court to mull punitive damages against Sudan over embassy bombings

The U.S. Supreme Court on June 28 agreed to hear a bid to reinstate $4.3 billion in punitive damages against Sudan in a lawsuit accusing it of complicity in the 1998 al Qaeda bombings of two U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 224 people. The justices took up an appeal by hundreds of people hurt and relatives of people killed in the bombings as they seek to reinstate the punitive damages that a lower court in 2017 ruled could not be levied against Sudan in addition to about $6 billion in compensatory damages imposed in the litigation. (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-court-sudan/u-s-supreme-court-to-hear-bid-to-revive-punitive-damages-against-sudan-over-embassy-bombings-idUSKCN1TT20W) Twelve Americans were among the dead in the Aug. 7, 1998, attacks, with thousands of other people wounded. The damages were imposed by default because for most of the litigation Sudan did not appear before a lower court to defend itself against allegations that it harbored and provided support to the Islamist militant group al Qaeda, which led to the bombings.

Newsline: US appoints ambassador to Ankara after almost two years

The Embassy of the United States in Ankara announced that the U.S. Senate on late June 27 confirmed David Satterfield to be the next U.S. ambassador to Turkey. “We have exciting news! Last night, the U.S. Senate confirmed Ambassador David Satterfield to be the next U.S. Ambassador to Turkey. We look forward to welcoming him in the near future. Stay tuned!” the embassy said on its Twitter account on June 28. (http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/us-appoints-ambassador-to-ankara-after-almost-two-years-144541) Satterfield is a career member of the Senior Foreign Service and has been acting assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs since 2017. Satterfield also assumed top posts at U.S. missions in Syria, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Lebanon. John Bass was the last serving American ambassador to Ankara from 2014 to 2017. Bass, who is assuming office of the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, left Turkey in October 2017 amid a visa crisis between Washington and Ankara. The post has been empty since then. The U.S. Embassy in Ankara suspended all non-immigrant visa services at all U.S. diplomatic facilities in Turkey as a reaction to the detention of U.S. Consulate employee Metin Topuz, and Turkey’s Washington Embassy followed suit in suspending non-immigrant visa services. The blame for Turkey’s visa spat with Washington lies with the United States, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had said in 2017, singling out then U.S. ambassador to Ankara, Bass, as responsible for the situation.

Newsline: Bahrain recalls ambassador to Iraq over embassy attack

Bahrain recalled its ambassador to Iraq for consultations after demonstrators broke into the courtyard of the kingdom’s embassy in Baghdad and took down the flag to protest a U.S.-led meeting in Bahrain on Israeli-Palestinian peace. (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-israel-palestinians-plan-bahrain/bahrain-recalls-ambassador-to-iraq-over-embassy-attack-statement-idUSKCN1TS36F) “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Bahrain condemns the attack on the Embassy of the Kingdom of Bahrain to the Republic of Iraq by the demonstrators (which) led to sabotage in the embassy building,” said a statement on the ministry’s website.

Newsline: Saudi envoy blasts UN expert’s report on Khashoggi killing

A top Saudi diplomat lashed out at an independent U.N. expert’s searing report alleging that Saudi Arabia was responsible for the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, saying it was based on “prejudice and pre-fabricated ideas.” (https://www.yahoo.com/news/saudi-envoy-blasts-un-experts-150646625.html) In what amounted to a face-off at the U.N’s top human rights body, Ambassador Abdulaziz Alwasil insisted that special rapporteur Agnes Callamard had failed to follow proper procedures and used flawed sourcing in her 101-page report made public last week. “Accusations have been launched, and fingers have been pointed — (she is) supporting herself on non-credible articles or sources,” he told the Human Rights Council, in Arabic through a U.N. interpreter. Callamard, sitting at the council podium to present her report, retorted that her methodology had respected precedent and insisted her report wasn’t based on media reports. She also said she hadn’t received any responses in writing from Saudi authorities to her report. The report by Callamard, an independent expert on extrajudicial and arbitrary killings, alleged that Saudi Arabia bears responsibility for The Washington Post columnist’s grisly apparent dismemberment by Saudi agents at the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul in October. It said Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s possible role in the killing should be examined, and Callamard used June 25 presentation to push for further investigation. Among diplomats speaking out, European Union ambassador Walter Stevens called on Saudi Arabia “to disclose all information available,” and “fully cooperate” with investigations into the killing, and Ralf Schroeder of Germany said “nothing can justify this killing, and we condemn it in the strongest possible terms.” Russia’s representative, Yaroslav Eremin, questioned the focus on journalists, dissenters and others, wondering aloud if the lives of regular citizens were “less valuable.” Yusuf Abdulkarim Bucheeri of Bahrain rallied to the defense of its big Arab neighbor, insisting Saudi Arabia had shown “full transparency from the outset.”

Newsline: Russian embassy in Caracas said military ‘technicians’ left Venezuela

Russia was withdrawing its military “technicians” from crisis-stricken Venezuela on June 26, the Caracas embassy said, as President Vladimir Putin gears up for talks with US leader Donald Trump later this week. (https://www.yahoo.com/news/russia-withdraw-military-technicians-venezuela-wednesday-embassy-184916199.html) The move comes three months after Moscow drew US ire by deploying around 100 military experts in Venezuela after Washington indicated it could use force to oust beleaguered President Nicolas Maduro, a Russian ally. “The Il-62 plane which is carrying Russian technicians who have been in Venezuela over the past months… was leaving Caracas for Moscow on June 26,” the Russian embassy in Caracas said in a post on Facebook. An embassy press attache told AFP “one plane” was departing for Moscow, declining to explain the timing of the move or provide any other comments. In the statement, the embassy sought to play down the nature of cooperation as “fairly routine maintenance work”, saying it would continue. “Russia delivered to Venezuela high-level equipment that requires regular maintenance. Furthermore, Russian specialists provided technical training to Venezuelan staff”,” the embassy said. “Unlike reported, it was not a Russian military presence but the fulfilment of maintenance contracts, without any purpose of destabilisation.” Russian experts were leaving Venezuela as Russia’s Putin is gearing up for talks with Trump on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Japan on June 28.

Newsline: Oman to open embassy in Palestinian territories’ West Bank

Oman said on June 26 it was planning to open a new diplomatic mission in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and that a delegation from its foreign ministry would go to Ramallah for that purpose. The Gulf state made its announcement as Washington launched an economic plan it says will be a foundation for Israeli-Palestinian peace but which Palestinians and many other Arabs dismiss as pointless without a political solution. “In line with the Sultanate’s support for the brotherly Palestinian people, it has decided to open a new diplomatic mission for Palestine at the level of embassy,” the foreign ministry said in Twitter post. (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-israel-palestinians-plan-oman/oman-to-open-embassy-in-palestinian-territories-west-bank-foreign-ministry-idUSKCN1TR0XE) “A delegation from the foreign ministry will be going to Ramallah to start procedures to open the embassy,” the tweet added.