Diplomatic Briefing

Your exclusive news aggregator handpicked daily!

Archive for US

Newsline: UK Diplomat’s husband dodges jail time for domestic assault charge in New York City

He nearly dodged wife-beating raps because of his spouse’s own diplomatic immunity — and now he’ll escape jail time thanks to a plea deal. Youseff Amroche, 37, copped to one count of misdemeanor attempted assault through an Arabic interpreter and agreed to complete a batter’s program in exchange for the no-jail sentence as part of a plea deal he struck with Manhattan prosecutors. On Dec. 8, Amroche roughed up his 46-year-old wife after he became enraged over the clothes she wore the previous night, according to police. He repeatedly slapped her, dragged her through their Turtle Bay apartment and put her in a headlock, court papers charge. But police couldn’t initially arrest him because he was covered by his wife’s diplomatic immunity. She is the secretary for a UK diplomat stationed in New York City.



Newsline: Belgrade Court Acquits Suspects In 2008 Attack On U.S. Embassy

A Serbian court has acquitted the suspects in the 2008 arson attack on the U.S. Embassy in Belgrade. The Appeals Court of Belgrade said on January 16 that it had overturned suspended prison sentences for four suspects and confirmed an earlier acquittal of three other people by a lower court. Prosecutors failed to provide enough evidence to back the indictment, a statement said. Demonstrators tried to storm the U.S. Embassy in Belgrade and set part of it ablaze in February 2008 as tens of thousands of people took to the streets of the Serbian capital to protest Kosovo’s declaration of independence a few days earlier. A 20-year-old man died in the incident, which has burdened relations between Washington and Belgrade for years.


Newsline: US Ambassador threatens German firms over Russian pipeline

The US ambassador to Berlin, Richard Grenell, has sent threatening letters to German companies working on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, according to a German newspaper. Grenell reportedly warns of possible sanctions. German companies building the Nord Stream 2 pipeline between Germany and Russia received letters from US Ambassador Richard Grenell warning them of “a significant risk of sanctions” if they did not pull out of the project, Germany’s mass-circulation Bild am Sonntag has reported. The large pipeline is set to deliver gas from northwestern Russia to northern Germany under the Baltic Sea and effectively double the amount of gas Germany imports from the country. The US opposes the project over fears that the gas link would tighten Russia’s control of Europe’s energy supply and diminish the importance of gas transit countries such as Ukraine. US companies are also keen to sell gas obtained by fracking to many European countries.


Newsline: EU in talks with US over embassy ‘downgrade’

The European Union said it is in talks with US officials after President Donald Trump’s administration reportedly “downgraded” the bloc’s embassy in Washington, in the latest blow to transatlantic relations. The US State Department lowered the EU mission’s diplomatic status from member state to international organisation late last year, according to a report by German broadcaster Deutsche Welle. The move apparently only came to light when the EU ambassador in Washington did not receive an invitation to the funeral of former US president George H W Bush in December, DW reported. “We understand that there was a recent change in the way the diplomatic precedence list is implemented by the United States’ Protocol,” Maja Kocijancic, spokeswoman for the European Commission’s diplomatic service, told AFP in an email. “We are discussing with the relevant services in the administration possible implications for the EU Delegation in Washington.” Kocijancic confirmed the EU was not notified of the change and said the bloc expected “the diplomatic practice established some years ago to be observed”. The news comes at a sensitive moment for EU-US relations, with the bloc’s top trade negotiator Cecilia Malmstrom on her way to Washington to try to breathe life into efforts to strike a trade deal and calm raging commercial tensions.


Newsline: The Real Story Behind the Havana Embassy Mystery

The most dire diplomatic crisis of the Trump administration, or maybe just the weirdest, began without much notice in November 2016, some three weeks after the new president was elected. An American working at the U.S. Embassy in Havana—some call him Patient Zero—complained that he had heard strange noises outside his home. In all, some two dozen people were eventually evacuated for testing and treatment. The outbreak at the U.S. Embassy in Cuba wasn’t the only mysterious illness to pop up in the headlines. Around the same time that embassy officials were preparing to fly home, more than 20 students at an Oklahoma high school suddenly came down with baffling symptoms—uncontrollable muscle spasms, even paralysis. But the Cuban mystery, the Trump administration insisted, was different. It was not some environmental mishap, but something far more diabolical. Encouraged by U.S. officials, the media quickly unfurled a story that the mysterious sound was an “attack”—an act of war. Some kind of “acoustic weapon” had been secretly aimed at the diplomats, in an effort to reduce them to brain-damaged zombies. By January 2018, some of the government’s own experts had ruled out a sonic attack. If you view what happened to the diplomats in Havana as an “attack,” you must look for something capable of producing such an assault. It would have to emit a sound that varied widely from listener to listener. It would have to strike only people who worked at the embassy. It would have to assail them wherever they happened to be, whether in their homes or staying at a hotel. It would have to produce a wide range of symptoms that seemed to bear no relation to one another. And it would have to start off small, with one or two victims, before spreading rapidly to everyone in the group. As it happens, there is and always has been one mechanism that produces precisely this effect in humans. Today it’s referred to in the medical literature as conversion disorder—that is, the conversion of stress and fear into actual physical illness. But most people know it by an older, creakier term: mass hysteria. Conversion disorder, according to the International Journal of Social Psychiatry, is the “rapid spread of illness signs and symptoms among members of a cohesive social group, for which there is no corresponding organic origin.” Scientists in Cuba were among the first to realize that the outbreak at the American Embassy conformed to mass hysteria. Mitchell Valdés-Sosa, director of the Cuban Neuroscience Center, told The Washington Post, “If your government comes and tells you, ‘You’re under attack. We have to rapidly get you out of there,’ and some people start feeling sick … there’s a possibility of psychological contagion.” Some American experts who were able to review the early evidence concurred. “It could certainly all be psychogenic,” Stanley Fahn, a neurologist at Columbia University, told Science magazine. But the government also ignored data that didn’t fit its preferred theory. Early on, there was an outbreak of symptoms among Canadian officials in Havana. But Canada and Cuba enjoy good relations, so it made no sense for Cuba to be attacking Canadians. Likewise, an isolated report of a similar “attack” at the U.S. Embassy in China briefly made the news, but was eventually dropped from the narrative. U.S. officials further loaded the dice by selecting the people sent home for testing—presenting an incomplete and misleading set of data for doctors to examine. Since 2000, there have been more events of mass psychogenic illness than there were in the entire previous century. The prescribed treatment for psychological contagion—avoiding inflammatory rhetoric and letting everyone calm down—will be increasingly difficult in the age of the Twitter Presidency, when the populace is regularly needled into fits of panic. There is a new battlespace in America’s ongoing war over what is real, and it can be found inside the architecture of our own skulls.


Newsline: Shutdown Hurts US Diplomatic Standing Abroad

With the partial U.S. government shutdown set to head into its third week, office closures and employee furloughs are making a bigger impact on government services. But at U.S. embassies and consulates overseas, the State Department said, most public services are so far largely unaffected. The department said it prioritizes protecting U.S. national security interests and the safety of U.S. citizens abroad during a partial government shutdown. “Consular operations, including visa and passport services, domestically and abroad, will remain open as long as there are sufficient fees to support operations,” a spokesperson told VOA. The official said embassies also continue to provide routine and emergency U.S. citizen services. Some embassy services, such as American Centers and EducationUSA offices, are closed during the shutdown. While visas so far are unaffected, former U.S. Ambassador John Campbell, a longtime diplomat who was working at the U.S. Embassy in South Africa during a 21-day shutdown in 1996, told VOA that shutdowns typically have a larger impact on staff. “In a relatively poor country like Nigeria, or for that matter, South Africa, the burden of a shutdown falls particularly hard on locally engaged staff, then called foreign service nationals,” he said. Campbell noted the damage to U.S. prestige during a shutdown is hard to measure but substantial, with people in other countries struggling to understand why the United States cannot manage to keep its government up and running.


Newsline: US citizen held in Moscow on espionage charges seeks Irish consular assistance

A former US Marine arrested last week on espionage charges in Russia has sought Irish consular assistance. Canadian-born Paul Whelan is a US citizen and also holds an Irish passport. He was arrested while he was in Moscow to attend a wedding. The Department of Foreign Affairs said: “The Embassy of Ireland in Moscow has requested consular access to an Irish citizen currently detained in Russia after receiving a request for assistance. “The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade will provide all possible and appropriate assistance in relation to this case.” Mr Whelan is also a British citizen and is seeking assistance from all embassies of countries of which he is a citizen.