Diplomatic Briefing

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Archive for November, 2019

Newsline: US ambassador to EU accused of sexual misconduct by three women

Gordon Sondland, the Northwest hotelier who has provided key testimony in impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump, is facing accusations of sexual misconduct and professional retaliation from three women, according to a report published by ProPublica and Portland Monthly. Sondland, who formerly owned the Ridpath Hotel in Spokane, denied all the allegations including one alleged incident at a Seattle hotel – in a statement to ProPublica, calling them “untrue claims” concocted for political purposes. He also posted a statement on his personal website, calling the reports “underhanded journalism,” laying out what he said were flaws in the stories, and saying he intends to sue both publications “and others involved as swiftly as possible.” (https://www.spokesman.com/stories/2019/nov/29/report-northwest-hotelier-and-ambassador-gordon-so/) The accusations stem from Sondland’s time in business, before his appointment in 2018 as U.S. ambassador to the European Union, a post he secured after donating $1 million to Trump’s inaugural committee. All three women agreed to be named in detailing their new accusations against Sondland, including Nicole Vogel, owner of Portland Monthly, who says Sondland made unwanted advances after she met with him in 2003 seeking financing for launching the publication.

Newsline: Bolivia’s Interim Government Appoints Temporary US Ambassador

Bolivia’s foreign minister has nominated Walter Oscar Serrate Cuellar as ambassador of a temporary mission to the U.S. Bolivia appointed an envoy to the United States for the first time in 11 years, as the right-wing caretaker government seeks to re-write the country’s foreign policy after the departure of Morales. Interim President Jeanine Anez, who replaced Morales after he quit, has broken ties with socialist Cuba and Nicolas Maduro’s Venezuela. Bolivia also fired all its ambassadors except those to Peru and the Vatican.


Newsline: China has more diplomatic posts overseas than US

The Chinese foreign ministry now has more embassies and consulates around the planet than Washington’s State Department, which is still scrambling to fill a number of key positions, including its ambassadors to key allies like Canada, and for two years Washington did not appoint a top envoy to Australia. China boosted its number of diplomatic allies to 180 as of September, with the Republic of Kiribati the latest to establish ties with the Communist republic that month, following the tiny Pacific nation’s decision to switch its allegiance from Taipei to Beijing. Beijing also added five additional embassies and consulates to its long list of overseas missions since 2017, and has added new allies in recent years, mostly by poaching them from Taiwan. A recent report studying the international presence of major powers says Beijing has the world’s largest diplomatic network, while Washington still has a number of “blank spots” in Asia, the Middle East and the Caribbean – for instance, North Korea, Iran, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica etc – where Beijing runs embassies and consulates. The 2019 Lowy global diplomatic index published by the Sydney-based Lowy Institute measures the reach of diplomatic infrastructure and presence of G20 and OECD countries as well as that of most Asian nations, by the number of embassies, consulates and other diplomatic posts overseas. Beijing has 276 in total in places from Copenhagen to the Cook Islands, three more than the US, and 96 consulates to Washington’s 88. (https://www.asiatimes.com/2019/11/article/china-has-more-posts-overseas-than-us-report/) Beijing has also doubled down on expanding its networks in key countries, and especially its potential rivals, by opening more consulates. In the US, other than its sprawling embassy compound in Washington, one of the largest of its kind in the American capital, Beijing runs consulates-general in New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Houston and is reportedly considering opening a new consulate in Seattle.

Newsline: Bolivia urges Mexico embassy to hand over wanted ex-officials

Bolivia’s foreign minister said Mexico will face a “very serious problem” if its embassy in La Paz refuses to hand over ex-government officials wanted for arrest, warning they could be there for years. More than 20 former members of ex-president Evo Morales’s government have holed up in the Mexican embassy. Bolivian prosecutors have issued arrest warrants for five of them. They include Morales’s former top minister Juan Ramon Quintana, who has been accused of sedition and terrorism — the same allegations leveled at Morales — and former culture minister Vilma Alanoca, who is wanted for “instigating a crime.” Foreign Minister Karen Longaric told foreign reporters Mexico’s refusal to hand over people accused of common crimes “would be a very serious problem for them and uncomfortable for us.”The Mexican diplomats “would have to resign themselves to these people staying in the embassy for the years of this government and the next,” Longaric said. (https://www.france24.com/en/20191128-bolivia-urges-mexico-embassy-to-hand-over-wanted-ex-officials) Relations between Bolivia and Mexico have been strained since Morales fled there after resigning on November 10 amid violent street protests that erupted after the disputed October 20 election.

Newsline: Iraqi forces kill 28 protesters after Iranian consulate torched

Iraqi security forces shot dead at least 28 protesters on Thursday after demonstrators stormed and torched an Iranian consulate overnight, in what could mark a turning point in the uprising against the Tehran-backed authorities. At least 24 people died when troops opened fire on demonstrators who blocked a bridge in the southern city of Nassiriya before dawn on Thursday. Medical sources said dozens of others were wounded. (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-iraq-protests/iraqi-forces-kill-28-protesters-after-iranian-consulate-torched-idUSKBN1Y20WX) Four others were killed in the capital Baghdad, where security forces opened fire with live ammunition and rubber bullets against protesters near a bridge over the Tigris river. The incidents marked one of the bloodiest days since the uprising began at the start of October with anti-corruption demonstrations that have since swelled into a revolt against authorities scorned by young demonstrators as stooges of Tehran. In Najaf, a city of ancient pilgrimage shrines that serves as seat of Iraq’s powerful Shi’ite clergy, the Iranian consulate was reduced to a charred ruin after it was stormed overnight. Protesters accused the Iraqi authorities of turning against their own people to defend Iran.

Newsline: Swiss raise alarm over ‘attack’ on Sri Lanka embassy employee

Swiss authorities have hit out at the detention of an employee of the country’s embassy in Sri Lanka, branding the development “grave and unacceptable”. A spokesman for Switzerland’s Department of Foreign Affairs said in a statement on Wednesday that the embassy employee was “detained against her will on the street and threatened at length” in an attempt to pressure her into releasing information. “Switzerland views the incident as a very grave and unacceptable attack on one of its diplomatic missions and their employees,” the spokesman said. (https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/11/swiss-raise-alarm-attack-sri-lanka-embassy-employee-191128061621424.html) Switzerland reported the incident to Sri Lankan authorities, the spokesman added, and have called on them to launch an investigation into it. Sri Lanka’s ambassador to Switzerland was meanwhile, summoned to the Department of Foreign Affairs.

Newsline: Ex-Morales’ officials take refuge in Mexico embassy in Bolivia

Some 20 former members of Bolivian ex-president Evo Morales’ government have holed up in Mexico’s embassy in La Paz, Bolivia’s foreign minister said Tuesday, including four wanted for arrest. Among them is Morales’ former top minister Juan Ramon Quintana, who the caretaker government has accused of sedition and terrorism. Morales, who fled to Mexico after being granted political asylum following his November 10 resignation, has been accused of the same crimes. “We have a group of more or less 20 diplomatic asylum seekers in the Mexico (embassy) residence,” foreign minister Karen Longaric told local media. “So far, arrest warrants have been issued for four of them.” (https://www.france24.com/en/20191126-ex-morales-officials-take-refuge-in-mexico-embassy-in-bolivia) AFP phone calls to the Mexican embassy went unanswered and there was no immediate response to an email request for comment. Longaric said she would inform the Mexican ambassador of the arrest warrants so the embassy did not allow the four wanted officials to leave the country.

Newsline: Cuba ups pressure on U.S. embassy in Havana

Cuba’s foreign minister charged the United States with violating the historic 2015 agreement reestablishing diplomatic relations after decades by interfering in the country’s internal affairs. Bruno Rodriguez tweeted the U.S. embassy in Havana was engaged in “illegal” activity “intended to attack our constitutional order.” (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-cuba-usa/cuba-ups-pressure-on-us-embassy-in-havana-idUSKBN1Y02BF) It was the second time in less than a week that the Communist-run government accused U.S. diplomats of fomenting dissent. While harsh rhetoric has returned to the old Cold War foes bilateral relations, Cuba has refrained from attacking U.S. diplomats up to now. Relations, broken off in 1961 and only partially restored in the 1980s, were reestablished as part of a short-lived detente orchestrated by former U.S. President Barack Obama.

Newsline: China Summons U.S. Ambassador in Protest Over Hong Kong Rights Bill

China’s foreign ministry summoned U.S. Ambassador Terry Branstad to protest against the passing in the U.S. Congress of the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, saying it amounted to interference in an internal Chinese matter. The ministry said in a notice posted on its website Vice Foreign Minister Zheng Zeguang pressed the United States “to correct its errors and stop meddling in Hong Kong affairs and interfering in China’s internal matters”. (https://www.usnews.com/news/world/articles/2019-11-25/china-summons-us-ambassador-to-protest-against-us-legislation) Anti-government demonstrators have protested in the streets of Hong Kong for six months amid increasing violence and fears that China will ratchet up its response to stop the civil disobedience. The protesters are angry at what they see as Chinese meddling in the freedoms promised to Hong Kong when Britain handed it back to China in 1997. The U.S. House of Representatives sent two Hong Kong-related bills to the White House after voting almost unanimously in favor of them. The Senate had unanimously passed the day before. U.S. President Donald Trump is expected to sign the bills into law, despite delicate trade talks with Beijing. Zheng said the passage of the Human Rights and Democracy Act was a form of encouragement of the violence and constituted a serious violation of international law and basic norms of international relations.

Newsline: U.S. recalls ambassador from South Sudan after unity government failure

The United States has recalled its ambassador from South Sudan after the leaders of formerly warring factions failed to agree on a unity government, the U.S. State Department said. Ambassador Thomas Hushek will return for consultations “as part of the re-evaluation of the U.S. relationship with the Government of South Sudan given the latest developments,” the department said in a statement. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted that Washington would “work with the region to support efforts to achieve peace and a successful political transition in South Sudan.” (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-southsudan-diplomacy/u-s-recalls-ambassador-to-south-sudan-to-consult-on-unity-government-failure-state-department-idUSKBN1XZ1UV) South Sudan’s ministry of foreign affairs said it was still engaging with the United States.