Diplomatic Briefing

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Archive for North America

Newsline: Top aides to U.S. ambassador to the United Nations resign

Two top aides to U.S. diplomat Nikki Haley, President Donald Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations, have resigned due to family concerns. Haley announced the departures on her Twitter account. Gone are Haley’s chief of staff, Steven Groves, and Communications Director Jonathan Wachtel, she said. “Both Jonathan & Steve have recently encountered family concerns. They will always be a part of the team & dear friends,” Haley said in a tweet responding to news reports the two men were leaving. Haley’s role at the United Nations received international attention last week when she helped persuade reticent members of the Security Council — particularly China and Russia — to pass tough new economic sanctions against North Korea. Replacements for Groves and Wachtel have not yet been announced.


Newsline: Cuba diplomats ousted after bizarre incident with US embassy workers in Havana

The U.S. has expelled two Cuban diplomats in retaliation for a bizarre incident purportedly involving a covert sonic device that allegedly left a group of American diplomats in Havana with severe hearing loss. State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert spoke only cryptically about the matter, referring to an “incident” without elaboration. Cuba has strongly denied any allegations of wrongdoing. The purported affair began in late 2016 when a series of U.S. diplomats in Havana began suffering unexplained losses of hearing, according to officials with knowledge of the investigation into the case, the Associated Press reported. Several of the diplomats had recently arrived at the embassy, which reopened in 2015 as part of former President Obama’s re-establishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba and relaxation of travel restrictions. Nauert said that as a result of the incident, two Cuban diplomats were ordered to leave their embassy in Washington. “We requested their departure as a reciprocal measure since some U.S. personnel’s assignments in Havana had to be curtailed due to these incidents,” she said. “Under the Vienna Convention, Cuba has an obligation to take measures to protect diplomats.” She did not say how many U.S. diplomats were affected or confirm they suffered hearing loss, saying only that they had “a variety of physical symptoms.” She said none were life-threatening. In a lengthy statement late Wednesday, the Cuban foreign ministry said: “Cuba has never permitted, nor will permit, that Cuban territory be used for any action against accredited diplomatic officials or their families, with no exception.” It said the decision to expel two Cuban diplomats was “unjustified and baseless.”


Newsline: Canadian pastor freed from North Korean prison after efforts from Swedish embassy

Relatives of a Canadian pastor released this week after more than two years in a North Korean prison say he is “on his way home” and they are anxious to be reunited with him. The Korean Central News Agency reported that North Korea’s central court had decided to free Hyeong Soo Lim, who was serving a life sentence for anti-state activities. The pastor’s release was described as “sick bail,” but no other details were given. In a statement Thursday, a spokeswoman for his family said “there is a long way to go” in terms of Lim’s healing and stressed the need for privacy as he receives unspecified medical attention. Lisa Pak also said the family is grateful to the Canadian government and the Swedish embassy in North Korea for working behind the scenes to secure the pastor’s freedom. She did not say when he was scheduled to arrive in Canada.

Canadian pastor freed from North Korean prison after efforts from Swedish embassy: family

Newsline: US to respond by Sept. 1 to Russia’s expulsion of diplomats

The Trump administration has yet to decide how to respond to Russia’s move to expel hundreds of American diplomats, but plans to deliver a response to Moscow by Sept. 1, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said. A day after sitting down in the Philippines with Russia’s top diplomat, Tillerson said he’d asked “clarifying questions” about the Kremlin’s retaliation announced last month following new sanctions passed by Congress and signed by President Donald Trump. The Trump administration has struggled to determine how the move will affect the U.S. diplomatic presence in Russia, as well as the broader implications for the troubled relationship between the nuclear-armed powers. Despite the Russian move, which seemed to plunge the two countries even further into acrimony, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov emerged from the meeting declaring a readiness for more engagement with the U.S. on North Korea, Syria and Ukraine, among other issues. Tillerson broadly echoed that sentiment, saying the two countries had critical national security issues to discuss despite deep disagreements on some matters.


Newsline: Sexy thief robbed Saudi diplomat in New York

A Saudi diplomat was robbed of his $30,000 watch and other bling by a hot date he brought home from celebrity hangout 1 Oak in New York — and he’s just the latest victim in a series of similar scams, police sources told The Post. Consular attaché Sultan Khayat, 32, told cops the woman swiped a $30,000 Gerald Genta watch, a $12,000 Rolex, $2,500 in cash and his credit card Monday before running off from the swanky Midtown pad with the loot. And she’s the second sexy swindler to shake down a hook-up recently from 1 Oak — just last week, police released footage of a woman who they say stole a $50,000 Rolex and $20,000 worth of gold jewelry from a guy she picked up at the club in June. In the latest, incident, Khayat brought his “date” back to his East 53rd Street pad from 1 Oak — a magnet for celebs such as Justin Bieber and Jay-Z — around 7 a.m. Monday, cops said. The woman then split with his valuables and made $400 in charges on his American Express card, police said.


Newsline: U.S. will respond to Russia’s embassy expulsions by September

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met Sunday with his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, on the sidelines of a summit in the Philippines, and on Monday he said the U.S. would issue its response by Sept. 1 to Moscow’s July 30 announcement that it is expelling 755 U.S. embassy and consulate staff from Russia. Tillerson said he told Lavrov that the U.S. hasn’t yet decided on how it will respond to the expulsions, Moscow’s retaliation for new U.S. sanctions against Russia, and asked “several clarifying questions” about the Russian move. Lavrov told reporters he had explained how Russia would carry out its response, which includes closing a U.S. recreation retreat outside Moscow, but did not provide details. Russia’s response has caused some confusion, since the U.S. thought to have fewer than 755 Americans working at its Russian consulates and embassy. President Trump signed the sanctions bill last week, after it passed the House and Senate with veto-proof majorities, but has criticized it several times since. He has made no public comments about the Russian sanctions yet.


Newsline: Man accused of shooting US diplomat in Mexico faces competency hearing

A competency hearing has been scheduled for a California man accused of shooting a U.S. diplomat in Mexico. On Friday, a federal judge in Alexandria ordered the hearing for Zia Zafar of Chino Hills, California, to be held Aug. 11. Zafar is charged with attempted murder of a diplomat in the Jan. 6 shooting of consular officer Christopher Ashcraft in Guadalajara. Part of the shooting was captured on surveillance video, including footage of a man taking aim and firing at Ashcraft as he exited a parking garage. Prosecutors have offered no motive for the shooting. Court records indicate that Zafar was ordered to undergo a mental evaluation back in May. The findings of that evaluation have not been released.