Diplomatic Briefing

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Archive for North America

Newsline: US embassy racks up £11 million traffic debt in London

The U.S. embassy in London owes more than £11 million in traffic charges, according to British government figures. Staff at the embassy in Grosvenor Square, in the swanky Mayfair district, have racked up an £11,544,455 debt for unpaid congestion charge payments. There were 96,274 separate fines between the charge being introduced in February 2003 and December 31, 2016, according to Transport for London figures. The numbers were made available Wednesday as part of the latest written statements given by ministers and government departments. Drivers have to pay a daily fee to drive into central London during weekdays. Also in the top 10 list of non-payers are Japan (£7,629,370 owed), Russia (£5,603,320), Germany (£4,221,590) and Poland (£3,854,130). The total amount owed in congestion charge payments by foreign governments is £105,419,835, according to the figures. The fines have been allowed to mount up because of an argument over whether the charge is for a service or merely a tax for going in and out of central London. Diplomats tend to argue the latter, saying it is covered by diplomatic immunity. The U.S. decided on its stance on the subject in 2005.



Newsline: US ambassador to Turkey slams Ankara over staff arrest

The US ambassador to Turkey has slammed the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan over the arrest of a consular staff member. The detention last week of Turkish national Metin Topuz, who works for the US Consulate in Istanbul, sparked a sudden deterioration in relations and prompted Washington to suspend all its non-immigrant visa services in the country. Ankara responded by doing the same. Topuz was arrested on terrorism charges, but little else is known about the allegations against him. US Ambassador John Bass complained Wednesday that Turkey had left the United States in the dark as to why he was detained. He added that accusing US consular employees of terror-related crimes was “a very serious allegation.” His comments are the latest in a terse exchange of words to mark deteriorating relations between the United States and Turkey. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu spoke to US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Wednesday for the first time since the visa crisis began, Turkish foreign ministry sources told CNN. No further details were given.


Newsline: Russia says does not rule out slashing US embassy in Moscow’s strength to 300 people or less

Russia’s Foreign Ministry does not rule out ordering the United States to cut its diplomatic staff in Russia to 300 people or below, the RIA news agency cited Mr Georgy Borisenko, the head of the ministry’s North America Department, as saying on Wednesday (Oct 11). In July, Moscow ordered the United States to cut the number of its diplomatic and technical staff working in Russia by around 60 per cent, to 455, amid a diplomatic row. The figure of 455 was meant to mirror the total number of Russian diplomats working in the United States, but also included Russian nationals working at the United Nations in New York, Mr Borisenko told the agency.


Newsline: US Embassy official robbed at police roadblock in Papua New Guinea

A US Embassy official has been robbed at gunpoint in Port Moresby after being stopped at a police roadblock. Several sources have told the ABC the male official was driving home on Friday night after having dinner at the popular Harbourside restaurant precinct when he was stopped at a police roadblock a short distance away. A man in civilian clothes, who was with the police, got into the car, produced a pistol and took the American’s phone and watch. The official was then forced to drive to an ATM and withdraw cash from his bank account. He was able to get away when the armed robber got out of the car while it was parked near a nightclub in the CBD. The victim was left traumatised by the ordeal but is not believed to have sustained any significant physical injuries. The ABC has been told the US Embassy has put a nightly curfew in place for its staff following the robbery. One source said the official’s car did not have a duress alarm, which is a common security feature in diplomatic vehicles in Port Moresby.


Newsline: Turkey summons US diplomat in escalating visa spat

The Turkish Foreign Ministry has summoned the US embassy’s deputy chief in an escalating diplomatic row that has put both nations’ visa services on ice. State-run news agency Anadolu reported that the Foreign Ministry planned to tell Philip Kosnett of the US mission in Ankara that they expected the US to lift its visa suspension, which affects all non-immigrant visa services in the country. The latest tit-for-tat between Ankara and Washington began last week, when a staff member from the US consulate in Istanbul was arrested. Washington responded with the visa freeze and Ankara responded by doing the same.


Newsline: ‘Oil diplomat’ Rex Tillerson is so bad for Africa

Tensions may be simmering between US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and President Donald Trump over his “moron” comment, but if he remains in his job his “oil diplomacy” will continue its negative impact on the African continent. Since Tillerson became chief executive of ExxonMobil in 2006, his interest in Africa was driven by the need to maximise profits in terms of Exxon’s oil investments. Oil projects require huge amounts of capital and only pay off fully over decades. This means companies such as Exxon prefer countries with political stability, which is often equated with authoritarian rule. The key is to be able to predict what the country will be like in two decades’ time. With this in mind, Exxon has cut deals with long-serving leaders in major oil producing countries such as Angola, Equatorial Guinea and Chad. All three countries’ presidents have amassed their wealth with Exxon as the company with a major stake in the oil industry in all three countries. ExxonMobil is the largest oil producer in Equatorial Guinea, while the ExxonMobil-led consortium in Chad produces most of the country’s oil, and ExxonMobil and Chevron account for one third of Angola’s oil production. But now as Secretary of State, Tillerson will continue to prioritise the interests of US oil industry shareholders. It is also important to note that Tillerson only has to recuse himself from matters relating to ExxonMobil for the first two years of his term as Secretary of State. For as long as Tillerson is US Secretary of State, the profit motive driving US multinationals in Africa will be central to US considerations. The need to develop some of the poorest countries in the world will not enter the equation, and African strongmen will continue to amass their fortunes.


Newsline: Some US visitors to Cuba complain of symptoms similar to embassy ‘attacks’

A “handful” of private U.S. citizens who traveled to Cuba say they have experienced symptoms similar to those suffered by American diplomats in mysterious health “attacks” in Havana, the U.S. State Department said. A State Department spokesperson, who declined to be named, said the agency could not verify the claims but said travelers should heed its travel warning issued last Friday. The warning urged Americans to stay away from Cuba because of unexplained health “attacks” it says have caused hearing loss, dizziness, fatigue and cognitive issues among at least 22 diplomatic personnel. The Trump administration on Tuesday expelled 15 Cuban diplomats to protest Cuba’s failure to protect staff at the U.S. embassy in the communist country, just days after Washington recalled more than half the U.S. diplomatic personnel from Havana. Cuba has denied involvement, and Washington has not directly blamed the government in Havana. So far, no probes have yielded any answers about how the alleged attacks were carried out or who was responsible. The warning said the attacks had occurred in “diplomatic residences and hotels frequented by U.S. citizens.” CBS News first reported that some private citizens had complained of symptoms after visiting Cuba. On Friday, the U.S. embassy in Havana identified the Hotel Nacional and Hotel Capri as the two places where it said embassy personnel had been targeted over the past few months, and said the U.S. government had “imposed limitations on lodging” there.