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Commentaries: Do We Still Need Embassies?

One of the impacts of the global recession is that it has compelled a number of countries to scale back their diplomatic representation overseas by closing some of their embassies. Faced with the economic and financial realities during economic downturns, governments often have little choice but to cut back on the spending that is involved in maintaining and operating embassies overseas. Not surprisingly, then, there has been discussion or debate as to whether embassies and resident diplomats are still needed or relevant in the 21st century. Globalization and rapid advances in information and telecommunications technology have connected billions of people. The conduct of diplomacy cannot be immune to this. It must change or at least adapt, so that it is more responsive and effective in this modern environment.

http://thediplomat.com/2013/09/04/do-we-still-need-embassies/

Commentaries: U.S. ambassador’s post to the Vatican remains unfilled

There was no U.S. ambassador in the crowd at St. Peter’s Square during Tuesday’s installation of Pope Francis at the Vatican. That post has been vacant since November, when Miguel Diaz, a theologian, left the job to teach at the University of Dayton. Some Catholic critics of the Obama administration see that empty chair as a symbol for the lack of engagement between Washington and Vatican City. One of the candidates for ambassador, Nick Cafardi, former dean of the Duquesne University School of Law and co-chair of Catholics for Obama, disputed that characterization, listing numerous human rights campaigns in which the Vatican works with the State Department, such as battling human trafficking. In addition, while battling poverty is hardly a new focus for the Vatican, some speculate whether Pope Francis’s emphasis on the issue could become the basis for even more cooperation.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/us-ambassador-to-vatican-remains-unfilled/2013/03/20/e6d3a8c6-90e3-11e2-9cfd-36d6c9b5d7ad_story.html

Consular affairs: Diplomat says Prisoner X case highlights consular assistance limits

A former diplomat says the Prisoner X case highlights government limitations when giving consular assistance to Australians with dual citizenship. Ben Zygier is believed to have worked for Israel’s spy agency Mossad before being arrested and jailed in a top secret Israeli prison in February 2010. The dual Australian-Israeli national died in his supposedly suicide-proof jail cell in December 2010. He did not request or receive Australian consular assistance after being arrested, and Australia’s ambassador in Tel Aviv was not told about the case. Foreign Affairs officials in Canberra learned of Zygier’s arrest via Australian intelligence officers in Israel, and then relied on the assurances of Israeli authorities that he was being treated within his rights as an Israeli citizen. Foreign Minister Bob Carr has described that as a failing, and former Australian diplomat Ross Burns agrees. But he doubts consular assistance would have helped Zygier in any case. “Australians have high expectations of what can be achieved on behalf of dual nationals in situations that emerge in foreign countries,” he told The World Today. “The reality in international law is that we don’t have automatic right of access to people if they enjoy the nationality of the host of the other country.

http://au.news.yahoo.com/latest/a/-/article/16343065/diplomat-says-zygier-case-highlights-consular-assistance-limits/

Commentaries: US takes its diplomacy digital

When John Kerry took to Twitter on his first day as US secretary of state, he joined an army of diplomats using social media to reach out and connect directly with people around the world. “Exhilarating to walk into @StateDept today and get to work with remarkable team. Dad on mind! -JK,” Kerry wrote in his first personal tweet. In less than 140 characters, the new US top diplomat instantly signaled he intended to carry on and deepen a commitment to using social media begun under his predecessor Hillary Clinton. Clinton did not tweet, but she propelled the State Department towards what she called 21st Century Statecraft, and social media engagement has taken off. There are now more than 300 Twitter accounts with some three million followers, over 400 Facebook pages with close to 20 million fans, and 185 YouTube channels as well as Flickr, Google+ and Instagram links run by the State Department, its embassies, staff and diplomats. Most of the embassy Facebook pages are written both in English and the local language, and the official Twitter accounts are in 11 languages including Arabic, Chinese, Farsi, Hindi, Russian and Turkish. Absent any diplomatic ties with Iran, there’s even a “virtual embassy of Tehran” (http://iran.usembassy.gov/) set up in late 2011 and managed from Washington carrying information about visas and studying in the United States.

http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=201338story_8-3-2013_pg4_7

Consular affairs: U.S. Consulate Property in India Sold

The U.S. consulate properties are being auctioned in India by the U.S. government which has created a buzz among prominent real estate players in Mumbai. The U.S Consulate property, Washington House, the Altamount residential building has acquired by Lodha Group for 341.82 crore. Washington House property had quoted a fixed price of 350 crore and the property was one among the two marquee properties that U.S government set up for sale in the financial capital, Mumbai. Last year, the consulate had already shifted to another building in the Bandra-Kurla complex. Subsequent to this, both Washington House and Lincoln House, the other marquee property, were offered for sale.

http://www.siliconindia.com/realestate/news/US-Consulate-Property-Sold-at-Whooping-Rs34182-Crore-nid-136366.html

Consular affairs: Record demand for US visas from Brazil, China

Record numbers of Brazilians and Chinese have applied for visas to travel to the United States this year, the US State Department said. The State Department said it had deployed extra staff to its embassy and consulates in Brazil in order to process some of the 820,000 visa applications received this year, a 42 percent increase over 2010. More than 1.2 million Brazilians visited the United States in 2010, contributing some $6 billion to the economy, according to the US government, which said the number of visitors could reach 2.8 million by 2016. The State Department has also seen surging demand from China, where more than one million visa applications were submitted in 2011, a 34 percent increase over 2010. The deployment of extra staff has reduced the average wait time for a visa appointment in Brazil to less than 50 days and in China to less than 10 days, the State Department said.

http://m.bangkokpost.com/news/271994

Commentary: US steps into a virtual Iranian world

The administration of United States President Barack Obama has launched a virtual US Embassy in Iran that, as expected, has been immediately filtered.Tehran sees it as yet another subversive initiative by Uncle Sam to sow divisions between the people and the Islamic regime that overthrew a US-friendly dictator and then took American diplomats as hostage for 444 days in 1979-1980, prompting theUSto sever diplomatic ties with Iran. Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Ramin Mehmanparast has called theWashingtoninitiative an historical admission of its mistake in cutting off diplomatic relations withIran. The Americans, on the other hand, scoff at the notion that they could have maintained relations with their embassy taken over and their diplomats in custody. For sure, there is no lack of blame on both sides as to the cause and effect of the long diplomatic alienation between the US and Iran. The US’s Virtual Embassy Tehran website aims to bring information and dialogue to Iranian citizens. For some ordinary Iranians, the ability to file for visas through the virtual embassy, instead of undertaking the chore of traveling abroad, at least for the initial application, represents a plus, while others see this as a US trap to lure Iranians with the promise of rewards by mobilizing them against their government. The lines between consular and political activities are cut pretty short here. Nearly a decade ago, both sides briefly entertained the idea of aUSconsular office on one of Iran’s Persian Gulf islands, such as Kish or Qeshm, and for a while the Iranian government under president Mohammad Khatami seemed amenable to the idea. But it was quickly forgotten in the quicksand of mutual hostility that has consistently dwarfed any and all initiatives to restore diplomatic relations betweenTehranandWashington. One reason for Iran’s objection at the time was the fear that the US would use its facility in thePersian Gulf to spy on Iran’s naval activities. Another concern was the possibility of unwanted long lines reflecting a big desire on the part of many Iranians to visit the US. However, from Tehran’s point of view, a diplomatic foothold by the US in Iran would enlarge the US’s eye and ears. The US is actually taking advantage of no diplomatic relations for a free hand in covert and other similar activities, whereas with a full-staff embassy, the US would be forced to respect some boundaries. In other words, the US is definitely on a war path with Iran, all the more reason why Washington is presently content with only a virtual embassy instead of an actual one that could act as a buffer handicapping the US’s war moves. The virtual one is not a prelude to an actual one, but rather a substitute as far as the US is concerned, one that fulfills less a consular and more a soft power function, as a tool of influence.

 

http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/ML14Ak02.html

Consular affairs: Hell at foreign embassies in Ghana

At a time human rights have become the focus of global discussion, Ghanaians seeking visas to some countries are given hostile reception while they await their interview sessions. A visit by the Finder newspaper to a number of Embassies showed the plight of applicants. There was a lack of shelter and minimum provision of chairs. The embassies and High Commissions visited were those of theUnited States of America, the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, France and South Africa. Most applicants The Finder met at the US Embassy were seen waiting under trees and sitting on rocks. This situation has led to an individual hiring out seats on a pay-as-you-sit basis. The individual who gave her name as Sara provided applicants with plastic chairs and charged them 60 pesewas an hour. A student-applicant who gave his name as Justice told The Finder that he arrived at the Embassy at about 10:20am but was expected to go in for his interview at 1pm. “I have paid a visa fee of US$140 and therefore expected to be served well but as you can see, I am sitting on a rock and this is where I am going to sit till 1pm; can you imagine the discomfort?” he asked. A family of four, who patronized Sara’s plastic chair services, said they agreed to pay GH¢2.40 for every hour that they sat on the chairs. They said it was their second visit to the embassy, adding that the situation was no different even in the interview area. “There is a bold inscription that reads that the room accommodates only 150 people but the last time we were there, there were not less than 300 people in there and some of us had to stand for almost three hours before getting a seat,” the family head said. At the Spanish embassy, the situation was not different as visa applicants had to queue to enter the embassy. At the French embassy, visa applicants sit outside under the barest cover and still at the mercy of the sun, a situation that cannot be said to be comfortable. Another mission that is not doing enough for its applicants is the High commission of the Republic of South Africa. Most applicants that The Finder saw were standing in the sun as they waited for their turns to pass through the gate. A visit to the visa section of the High Commission of theUnited Kingdom, one of the most patronized in the country, showed that there were enough seats for applicants, with some empty seats evident. The German embassy visa section is another place where applicants appear to be treated with dignity as they are given comfortable places to sit while waiting to enter the main visa building. Applicants appear protected from the vagaries of the weather. At the Italian embassy a make-shift shed with wooden chairs have been provided for visa applicants.

 

http://edition.myjoyonline.com/pages/news/201112/78184.php

Commentary: Troubled SA diplomacy could doom climate talks

A United Nations climate change summit, which already promises only modest steps for cutting greenhouse gas pollution, could be in more trouble unless host South Africas harpens up its international image. The 190-nation gathering inDurbanat the end of this month follows years of fraught attempts to win agreement on strong emission curbs from big polluting nations. Expectations of success are already low for the talks, where parties are trying to find a way of saving the landmark Kyoto Protocol on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, which expires at the end of 2012.  Analysts expect all the same that the talks will produce a face-saving measure to prevent the Kyoto deal from dying in Durban. But the cloud has deepened after a series of diplomatic gaffes by the host country that have eroded confidence in its ability to take a grip on the debate and help shape the summit’s outcome. Furthermore, South Africa has strained relations with major Western powers which are normally major fund sources of global policies but are increasingly reluctant to allocate money due to debt worries in the eurozone and US. South Africa has found itself on the wrong side of the mainstream argument over Libya and Ivory Coast. Western powers also raised their eyebrows when Pretoria blocked a visit by the Dalai Lama to please China, its biggest trading partner. Analysts recall the Copenhagen climate talks of 2009 which were roundly regarded as a failure, in part because the host country could not do the heavy lifting to broker the deals required. The talks in 2010 in Cancun were regarded as a relative success, with many negotiators crediting Mexican envoys for pushing the process forward. South Africa’s environment minister is Edna Molewa, a highly regarded domestic political operative with almost no experience in global negotiations. Foreign Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane has more international experience, serving as an ambassador, but has not been seen as a force in regional or global diplomacy. It was Mashabane’s diplomacy that came in for Western criticism when Pretoria supported entrenched and autocratic leaders in Libya, Syria and Ivory Coast. Its stance strained ties with the European Union and Washington. The refusal to allow the Dalai Lama, a Nobel peace prize laureate seen as a dangerous separatist by Beijing, to attend the 80th birthday of South Africa’s national hero Desmond Tutu, also provoked an outcry. Foreign Policy magazine dubbed South Africa a “cowardly lion”. Critics said the ANC has compromised ideals it embraced when it fought to end apartheid. “Principles have fallen to such an extent that nobody expects them to do the right thing,” said a diplomat in Pretoria.

 

http://m.timeslive.co.za/?i=3692/0/0&artId=4169350&showonly=1

Diplomatic history: Nixon called ambassadors ‘eunuchs’

When President Nixon gave testimony to a grand jury in the summer of 1975, he had already been pardoned by his successor, Gerald Ford, for any crimes he might have committed while serving in the White House. So the purpose of his sit-down with federal lawyers onMonday, June 23, 1975, was for the disgraced former president to speak frankly about what he knew. Among the topics of interest to federal lawyers was whether Nixon or his aides had ever offered ambassadorships to campaign donors in exchange for cash. When questioned about the topic, an indignant Nixon rambled candidly. “Major posts” to countries such as France, Britain and Japan were considered priorities in the Nixon White House, while posts to smaller countries were not important enough for the president to get personally involved in the selection process, he said. “As far as other ambassadorial assignments were concerned, ambassador to Luxembourg or El Salvador or Trinidad, et cetera, it was not vitally important, as far as the national interest was concerned, to have in that post an individual whose qualifications were extraordinary,” he said. In some cases, Nixon said, those posts went to campaign contributors. That’s how it had always been done. “I would say, looking at the smaller countries likeLuxembourg, that Perle Mesta wasn’t sent toLuxembourgbecause she had big bosoms,” he said, referring to the socialite whom President Truman made ambassador toLuxembourg. “Perle Mesta went toLuxembourgbecause she made a good contribution.” “But may I say she was a very good ambassador inLuxembourg,” he continued. “And when you talk about selling ambassadorships, I don’t want the record of this grand jury even to indicate that people of wealth, because they do make contributions, therefore should be barred from being ambassadors.” No, Nixon felt that “some of the very best ambassadors we have been non-career ambassadors who have made substantial contributions.” “As far as career ambassadors, most of them are a bunch of eunuchs,” he said. “And I don’t mean that in a physical sense, but I meant it in an emotional sense, in a mental sense. They aren’t for the American free enterprise system.” Nixon’s frankness continued throughout the discussion. He referred to the island nation ofSri Lanka, then known asCeylon, as a “God-awful place” and again called State Department employees “emotional eunuchs.”

 

http://www.fox26medford.com/mobile/la-pn-nixon-eunuchs-and-bosoms-20111110,0,1098121.story