Diplomatic Briefing

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Newsline: Bulgaria expels two Russian diplomats for espionage

Bulgaria expelled two Russian diplomats who prosecutors suspect were involved in espionage and gave them 48 hours to leave the Balkan country, the foreign ministry said on Friday. EU and NATO member Bulgaria, which traditionally keeps close links to Russia, expelled another diplomat over espionage allegations in October and declined to grant a visa to Russia’s incoming defense attache. The Russian Embassy in Sofia said the two diplomats would leave Bulgaria, but Moscow reserved its right to respond to their expulsions. (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-bulgaria-russia/bulgaria-expels-two-russian-diplomats-for-espionage-idUSKBN1ZN10K) The embassy said Sofia had handed diplomatic notes to the ambassador without providing any proof that the two had acted in a way incompatible with their status. Earlier on Friday Foreign Minister Ekaterina Zharieva said the two would most likely be expelled after the foreign ministry was informed about the prosecutors’ allegations.

Newsline: European Union names first ambassador to Brexit Britain

The European Union named a Portuguese diplomat as its first ambassador to Britain after it leaves the EU next week. Britain’s tortured EU divorce will be final on Jan. 31, more than three years since Britons 52-48% in a referendum in favor of departing the bloc. “As of that date, the United Kingdom will be a third country,” the EU’s joint foreign policy service said in a statement that named João Vale de Almeida “the first head of the future EU delegation to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.” (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-britain-eu-diplomacy/european-union-names-first-ambassador-to-brexit-britain-idUSKBN1ZN1V3) It said Almeida, who previously serves as the EU’s ambassador to the United Nations and the United States, would take up his new role on Feb. 1.

Newsline: U.S. to send ambassador to Bolivia for first time in over a decade

The United States intends to send an ambassador to Bolivia to help restore a “normal relationship” between the two countries, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale said in a video statement. (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-bolivia-usa/us-to-send-ambassador-to-bolivia-for-first-time-in-over-a-decade-idUSKBN1ZM2FL) The move, which would mark the return of a U.S. ambassador to La Paz for the first time in over a decade, underscores rapidly improving relations since the current interim government took over after the resignation of leftist leader Evo Morales. The United States has had a lower-ranking diplomat in the South American country since Morales ordered the last ambassador Philip Goldberg to leave in 2008, blaming him for opposition protests against his rule.

Newsline: Chinese embassy in Paris finds woman who ‘cheated’ Coronavirus checks

The Chinese embassy in Paris has tracked down a woman from Wuhan who said she took tablets to pass airport health checks. The woman boasted on social media that she had been suffering from a fever, but managed to reduce her symptoms with medicine. She later posted pictures showing herself dining at what she claimed was a Michelin-starred restaurant in Lyon. (https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-51231593) The embassy has now confirmed that her symptoms are under control. The woman left Wuhan – where the new coronavirus emerged late last year – before flights were suspended, but when thermal scanning was in place.

Newsline: US diplomatic staffer in Colombia is missing and presumed dead

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that an American staffer from the US Mission in Colombia is missing and presumed dead after a boating accident over the weekend. The top US diplomat, speaking alongside the Colombian president in Bogota, said the boating accident occurred on Saturday and that other government personnel had been involved. Some were rescued with “modest injuries” and one was airlifted to the US for treatment, Pompeo said. The missing worker’s next of kin had been notified, Pompeo said, but they were withholding the individual’s name for privacy considerations. A spokesperson for the State Department’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs told CNN that the employee was “on temporary assignment to the US Embassy in Bogota” and was “engaging in tourist activities in Cartagena” when the boating accident occurred. (https://edition.cnn.com/2020/01/20/politics/us-mission-colombia-worker-dead-boating-accident/index.html) Colombian President Ivan Duque expressed his condolences over the accident. He said Navy, Coast Guard and local services were participating in search efforts for the body of the missing worker. According to a press release from the Colombian navy, the accident occurred near the Rosario Islands, off the coast of Cartagena. 11 of the 12 passengers in the boat were rescued, the release said.

Newsline: Suspect nabbed for killing of Turkish diplomat in Iraq

Turkish security forces on Jan. 21 nabbed a suspect allegedly linked to an armed attack that killed a Turkish diplomat in northern Iraq last July. He was arrested in a joint operation by the provincial police forces and the Turkish Intelligence Organization (MİT) in the southeastern border province of Şırnak as he attempted to cross to Turkey. (http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/turkey-nabs-suspect-over-killing-of-turkish-diplomat-in-erbil-151279) On July 17, Osman Köse, who was serving at Turkey’s Consulate General in Erbil, was killed in an armed attack at a restaurant. Apart from the diplomat, two Iraqi nationals sitting at a nearby table were also killed. In August, Turkish forces neutralized two PKK/YPG terrorists, who plotted the armed attack.

Newsline: Sweden summons Chinese ambassador over criticism of country and media

Sweden’s foreign ministry has summoned the Chinese ambassador for talks over his repeated criticism of the Scandinavian nation and alleged intimidation of the Swedish media. Relations between Sweden and China have been strained for several years over Beijing’s detention of Chinese-born Swedish citizen Gui Minhai, who published gossipy titles about Chinese political leaders out of a Hong Kong book shop. A foreign ministry spokeswoman on Tuesday refused to disclose the specific issues that would be raised. Chinese ambassador Gui Congyou in November threatened “counter-measures” after the culture minister awarded a Swedish rights prize to Gui Minhai. Two business delegations to Stockholm were subsequently cancelled. In an interview at the weekend on Swedish television SVT, he said of Sweden’s critical media coverage of China: “It’s like a 48-kilo lightweight boxer picking a fight with an 86-kilo heavyweight boxer, and the 86-kilo boxer out of courtesy and goodwill tells the 48-kilo boxer to mind his own business.” (https://www.hongkongfp.com/2020/01/22/sweden-summons-chinese-ambassador-criticism-country-media/) “But the lightweight boxer doesn’t listen, he continues to provoke and forces himself into the heavyweight boxer’s home. What choice does then this 86-kilo boxer have?” Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde told SVT the ambassador’s remarks were “an unacceptable threat”.