Diplomatic Briefing

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Newsline: German Embassy diplomat confirmed killed in Beirut blast

The official’s death is the first confirmed Germany fatality following Tuesday’s explosion. Foreign Minister Heiko Maas confirmed that she was killed in her home and said the foreign ministry was in ‘deep mourning.’ A German diplomat was killed in Tuesday’s massive explosion in Beirut, marking the first death of a German citizen due to the blast. “Our worst fears have been confirmed,” Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said in a statement. “A member of our embassy in Beirut has been killed in the aftermath of the explosion in her home. All employees of the Federal Foreign Office are in deep grieving for their colleague.” (https://www.dw.com/en/german-embassy-diplomat-confirmed-killed-in-beirut-blast/a-54464915) “I would like to thank everyone who, like our late colleague, takes great personal risks around the world every day in serving our country,” added Maas.

Newsline: U.S. Embassy in Beirut says American citizen killed in blast

The U.S. Embassy in Beirut says at least one American citizen was killed and several more were injured in Tuesday’s massive explosion in Beirut’s port. “We offer our sincerest condolences to their loved ones and are working to provide the affected U.S. citizens and their families all possible consular assistance. We are working closely with local authorities to determine if any additional U.S. citizens were affected,” the embassy said in a statement. (https://www.news8000.com/the-latest-american-citizen-killed-in-blast-embassy-says/) The embassy said all of its employees are safe and accounted for.

Newsline: Wife of Dutch ambassador seriously injured in Beirut blast

he wife of the Dutch ambassador to Lebanon was seriously injured by a huge blast that took place in Beirut’s port on Tuesday, the Dutch Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday. (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-lebanon-security-blast-netherlands/wife-of-dutch-ambassador-seriously-injured-in-beirut-blast-ministry-idUSKCN2511FJ) A spokesman said she had been admitted to hospital. He said the blast had caused extensive damage to the Dutch embassy, also wounding four other people connected to it.

Newsline: Australian Embassy building damaged in Beirut blast

At least one Australian was killed, and the Australian Embassy building has been “significantly compromised,” said Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Two Filipino citizens also died from the explosion, and eight others are injured, said a statement from the Philippine Embassy in Beirut. Eleven other Filipino seafarers are still missing. (https://edition.cnn.com/2020/08/05/middleeast/beirut-blast-explainer-intl-hnk/index.html) One Japanese citizen, one Indonesian, and six Turkish citizens were also injured, according to authorities from the three countries.

Newsline: US Embassy auction in Beijing raises speculation of ‘scaling down

As China-US relations spiraled toward the lowest point since diplomatic relations were established in 1979, an auction held by the US Embassy in Beijing on Tuesday attracted a curious crowd. Coming on the heels of the shutdown of the US consulate in Chengdu on July 27, a forced decision in response to the unexpected order to close China’s consulate in Houston, the auction also raised speculation that the embassy was “scaling down.” Some people suspected that items from the consulate in Chengdu would appear at the auction. Global Times reporters went to the auction on Tuesday morning and found hundreds of people. The auction featured used items including office supplies (desks, chairs), household furniture (beds, carpets), domestic appliances (dryers, washing machines), electronic devices and accessories (computers, printers, CPUs). Most of those who went were retirees looking for a bargain, married couples looking for furniture, and some second-hand dealers looking for business opportunities. The embassy said in a statement on its website that the auction is open to all residents aside from management/GSO property/procurement/motor pool and facility staff and their family members. It also noted that the quality and condition of the items were not guaranteed. A Beijing resident at the auction told the Global Times that he attended the auction to check whether it was a sign of scaling-down or even closure of the US Embassy. Others reached by the Global Times said they wondered “if the rumors were true.” However, a statement sent by the embassy press officer to the Global Times said the auction is “a normal part of disposing of used items from the embassy,” which was confirmed by an embassy staff on the scene. “It has nothing to do with diplomatic scaling-down,” the statement said. “Expect more auctions in the near future.” (https://www.globaltimes.cn/content/1196700.shtml) This is not the first time the US Embassy and its consulates held auctions in China. The embassy usually held two auctions every year in Beijing before the epidemic. However, this year’s auction attracted much more attention from the Chinese public amid the escalation of diplomatic tensions. An embassy member of staff at the auction said he has never seen so many attendees before.

Newsline: South Korea, New Zealand spar over diplomat in sex harassment case

South Korea and New Zealand are at odds over the case of a South Korean diplomat who has been accused of groping a New Zealand staff member at Seoul’s Embassy in Wellington. The New Zealand government has called on South Korea to waive the man’s diplomatic immunity, but Seoul has agreed to cooperate on the grounds his immunity not be waived, South Korean news service News 1 reported. South Korea’s foreign ministry told reporters on Monday the two countries have been in communication over the case. Seoul will work with the New Zealand government if it requests investigation under the Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters and extradition. (https://www.upi.com/Top_News/World-News/2020/08/03/South-Korea-New-Zealand-spar-over-diplomat-in-sex-harassment-case/6671596458162/) New Zealand has urged Seoul to do more, however. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has “expressed her disappointment that the Korean Government was unable to waive immunity to allow aspects of the police investigation into this matter to proceed,” the prime minister’s office said, according to the New Zealand Herald on Sunday. Ardern recently conveyed her opinions in a phone call with President Moon Jae-in. The diplomat, a former deputy ambassador to New Zealand, has been charged with three counts of sexual misconduct that took place in 2017. The plaintiff in the case, a male employee at the embassy, is currently receiving support from MOSAIC, an advocacy group for male sex abuse survivors, according to the report.

Newsline: Israel approves raft of new envoys, including controversial ambassador to UK

Israel has confirmed half a dozen new ambassadors and consul-generals, including envoys to countries that will have a large impact on the Israeli government’s policies, security and development programmes. Among the appointments is Tzipi Hotovely, a right-wing religious nationalist, who is being made ambassador to the United Kingdom after a stint at the settlement affairs ministry. (https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/israel-approves-raft-new-envoys-including-controversial-ambassador-uk) Hotovely, a rising power in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, is known for her Jewish supremacist views and disregard for the two-state solution. She is openly Islamophobic and supports the full annexation of the occupied West Bank. Her appointment comes as the British and Israeli governments are at odds over Israel’s now delayed plans to annex parts of the West Bank. When news she would be arriving in London broke last month, a petition was set up asking the UK’s Foreign Office to reject her nomination. It has now been signed by 1,800 members of Britain’s Jewish community.

Newsline: US, China consulate closures deal losses to both nations

In shutting each other’s consulates, the United States and China have done more than strike symbolic blows in their escalating feud. They’ve also dimmed each other’s ability to observe — and to spy on — critical regions of their countries. For the United States, the loss of the Chengdu mission in southwestern China will, among other things, cloud its view of Tibet, a region where Buddhist residents say Beijing is eroding its culture and its traditional independent streak. China says Tibet has been its territory for centuries. For China, the loss of its mission in Houston dims its view of America’s South and, according to U.S. officials, removes the nerve center of a Chinese spying network. While the impact of the consulate closures has yet to be fully felt by either side, it will be. “We’ll be flying blind if not with very dark glasses and so will they,” said Beatrice Camp, a retired career diplomat who served as consul general at the U.S. consulate in Shanghai from 2008 to 2011. (https://www.witn.com/2020/07/31/us-china-consulate-closures-deal-losses-to-both-nations/) The closures of the consulates up the ante in the diplomatic confrontation, with the Trump administration turning up the heat on China in the midst of an already heated rivalry that has been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic and ahead of the November U.S. presidential election — and Beijing responding in kind. In Houston, U.S. officials said they removed the epicenter of a Chinese spying network that spanned more than 25 cities, collecting intelligence, trying to steal intellectual property and harassing the expatriate families of dissidents and others while trying to coerce them to return to China. Led by a consul general who had previously served in Australia, where China has been especially active in going after expatriates, the Houston consulate was “particularly aggressive and particularly successful,” one U.S. official said. U.S. officials do not deny collecting intelligence from the consulate in Chengdu but insist that it functioned the same as any diplomatic mission run by the United States or other nations.

Newsline: How Trump’s Ambassador to Mexico Became a Twitter Star

If you were Donald Trump’s ambassador to Mexico, you might be forgiven for lying low. Instead, in early September 2019, Christopher Landau, the newly appointed U.S. ambassador to Mexico, posed a challenge to Mexican Twitter users. His counterpart in Greece, he wrote, had almost 150,000 followers in a country with a population of 10 million, whereas the @USAmbMex account only had 40,000 followers in a country of 130 million. “This is an outrage! … Mexico has to be #1!” he tweeted in Spanish. The following day, Landau’s followers numbered more than 76,000. Today, he has over 245,000—and his account offers an unexpected lesson in American digital diplomacy. (https://slate.com/technology/2020/07/mexico-ambassador-twitter.html) Landau’s followers come, we might assume, to learn about U.S. policy and the binational relationship—but they stay for the memes, food pictures, GIFs, and charisma. Or perhaps it’s the other way around. Either way, Landau, the representative of a president famous for his attacks against Mexico, has leveraged social media to present a starkly different outreach to our southern neighbor. He has cultivated a solicitous, admiring public persona, inviting people to ask questions about visas or U.S. policy. Often, he responds personally. Incredulous followers argue there’s no way he runs his own account, but he insists that he does.

Newsline: US diplomats plead with State Department not to rush return to offices

More than 500 State Department employees are privately pleading with the Trump administration to pull back its decision to send up to 80 percent of its staff members in Washington back to work in person after an employee who works near Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s office tested positive for the coronavirus this week. In a letter to State Department leaders obtained by NBC News, the staffers assert that the department didn’t follow its own guidelines for when it’s safe and feasible to return to the office. The State Department announced in an email to staff members Monday that it was moving its Washington offices into Phase II of its reopening plan, in which offices can be occupied at up to 80 percent. “We write today with a request for your continued advocacy for maximizing workplace flexibilities and to sensitize you to the ways in which moving too quickly to Phase II, both domestically and overseas, could lead to reduced productivity, negative consequences for manager-employee relations, detrimental effects to the health and safety of employees, and disparate consequences that would counteract the Department’s objectives for diversity and inclusion,” the letter says. (https://news.yahoo.com/diplomats-plead-state-department-not-093844044.html) The letter, written by career State Department employees, was addressed to Undersecretary of State Brian Bulatao, a top aide to and longtime friend of Pompeo. It was sent privately to Bulatao on Thursday. NBC News obtained access to a Google Doc to which employees were adding their names as co-signers ahead of its being sent.