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Newsline: US embassy in Oman issues scam alert

The United States embassy in Muscat is warning people about a “potential scam” where emailers claim to represent the embassy. “WARNING — The U.S. Embassy has been made aware of a potential scam involving individuals purporting to represent the Embassy by soliciting purchase orders for solar generators,” the embassy reported in an online statement. “If your business receives a tender request from a ‘Michelle Collins, Embassy of the United States’ or from any of the following email addresses: usa@embassytenderdep.com or usa@embassytenders.com or info@embassytendersdep.com, please DO NOT ACT on this request and notify us immediately via email at: MuscatRSO@state.gov,” the embassy warned. “If you receive an email from any company or individual claiming to represent U.S. Embassy Muscat, be cautious. Particularly, if you receive an e-mail from a company or individual asking you to contact them and pay any money, be cautious. These messages are not from the Federal Government,” added the embassy. “Any official correspondence from the U.S. Embassy or an embassy official will be from a properly formatted U.S. Department of State email address ending in ‘@state.gov’ and will have a corresponding embassy telephone number with a local area code,” said the embassy online. “If you are contacted by someone claiming to be from the embassy without a ‘state.gov’ email address and who asks for money, please contact MuscatRSO@state.gov immediately,” the embassy added.



Newsline: US embassy employee kidnapped, freed, in Venezuela

An employee of the US embassy in Caracas has been released after being kidnapped two days earlier by criminals demanding a ransom, police said. Police said the employee, a Venezuelan national identified as Kerbin Barazarte, 28 — whom they described as a security guard — had been released yesterday unharmed and without payment of a ransom. They said he was abducted while patrolling in a van near the embassy on Monday night. His captors, who were not identified, had demanded payment of USD 30,000 for his release. A colleague who was with him managed to evade the kidnappers, the police said. The interior ministry announced on Tuesday that the US embassy van had been recovered but that Barazarte was missing. Police gave no details of the circumstances of his release.

US embassy employee kidnapped, freed, in Venezuela: police

Newsline: Israel’s NY consulate briefly closed for 2nd time in 4 days over threat

The Israeli consulate in New York City was briefly closed with employees barred from leaving the premises, after an envelope with white powder was sent to the building along with a direct threat on the life of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a senior official told the Times of Israel. The substance was eventually determined to be harmless. It was the second such threat sent to the building in four days. The incident happened shortly after Netanyahu concluded a meeting with US President Donald Trump in New York and returned to his hotel room. The workers were waiting for the arrival of an NYPD sapper to check the envelope. Consul-General Dani Dayan was not in the building at the time.


Newsline: Top US diplomat says closing embassy in Cuba ‘under review’

The Trump administration will press its concerns about unexplained incidents harming American diplomats in Cuba during a meeting this week in Washington, as the United States considers shuttering its recently re-opened Embassy in Havana. U.S. diplomats will host Cuban official Josefina Vidal, who has been the public face of Cuba’s diplomatic opening with the U.S., and other Cuban officials, a State Department official told The Associated Press. Vidal has served as the chief of U.S. affairs for her country’s foreign ministry and was recently named Cuba’s ambassador to Canada, whose diplomats also were harmed by the mysterious incidents. The United States plans to raise concerns and discuss the status of the ongoing investigation, which has yet to determine a cause of culprit for what the U.S. has variably called “incidents” or “health attacks.” The Trump administration will be represented by John Creamer, the deputy assistant secretary of state responsible for Cuba, said the official, who wasn’t authorized to comment by name and requested anonymity. On Sunday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson disclosed that the Trump administration is considering closing down the embassy, the strongest indication to date that the United States might mount a major diplomatic response. The two former foes reopened embassies in Washington and Havana in 2015 after a half-century of estrangement. “We have it under evaluation,” Tillerson said of a possible embassy closure. “It’s a very serious issue with respect to the harm that certain individuals have suffered. We’ve brought some of those people home. It’s under review.” Of the 21 medically confirmed U.S. individuals affected — diplomats and their families — some have permanent hearing loss or concussions, while others suffered nausea, headaches and ear-ringing. Some are struggling with concentration or common word recall, The Associated Press has reported. The State Department has emphasized that the U.S. still doesn’t know what has occurred. Cuba has denied any involvement or responsibility but stressed that it’s eager to help the U.S. resolve the matter.


Newsline: Canberra snubs CIA over Pyongyang embassy

It is not often that the CIA makes a request of its close friend and ally Australia and gets knocked back, but it has happened twice, in 2013 and 2014, and it related to the most sensitive security issue of our time, North Korea. In early 2014, only a few months after the Coalition government led by Tony Abbott had been elected, the US State Department, at the urging of the CIA, made a strong suggestion to Canberra that it consider opening a resident embassy in North Korea. At first, Abbott was inclined to agree. He and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop had several discussions about it, although the matter never reached cabinet. Canberra sounded out several friendly governments that had embassies in North Korea to ascertain what value they got from their presence in the Hermit Kingdom and was generally told pretty dismal stories of ambassadors being kept away from meaningful North Korean decision-makers and being subject to relentless, 24/7 surveillance. Australia and North Korea have diplomatic relations, but do not have resident embassies in each others’ countries. At about the time of the American request, the North Koreans had been making life difficult for Australia’s ambassador to Seoul whenever he wanted to go to North Korea on an official trip. The other problem with the Americans’ proposal from Canberra’s point of view was that North Korea would certainly agree to hosting an Australian ­embassy in Pyongyang only if it were allowed to reopen a resident ­embassy in Canberra. North Korean embassies around the world are notorious for using the privileged diplomatic communications and transport rights of embassies to facilitate crime and illegal money-making schemes for their regime. In 2003, at a time when North Korea did have an embassy in Canberra, a North Korean ship, the Pong Su, delivered a shipment of heroin to Australia. The ship, and the heroin, were seized by Australian authorities. Although Canberra co-operates intensely with Washington on North Korea, the decision, on balance, was not to proceed with a new embassy in Pyongyang.


Newsline: Bahamas Embassy Driver Paid $46k Overtime in Washington

Bahamas audits looking into the operations of Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ embassies, consulate general offices and a permanent mission, has pointed to apparent loose protocols where there is “excessive” overtime pay, “exorbitant” spending and thousands in uncollected revenue among other shortfalls. At the Bahamas Embassy in Washington, DC, the ambassador’s chauffeur was paid $46,883.13 in overtime during a three-year period from 2014 to 2016, while at the Bahamas Consulate General’s office in DC, the messenger/driver received overtime amounting to $21,534.92. Auditors said at the embassy in DC, officials paid a company $22,484 for an event, but the entity did not perform the duties which were agreed upon. And at the Permanent Mission to the United Nations in New York, over a period of two year – July 2014 to June 2015 and July 2015 to June 2016 – a total of $28,291.34 was spent to accommodate the hosting of diplomatic and promotional events.


Newsline: US senators urge to close Cuba embassy after acoustic attacks on diplomats

Five GOP senators are calling on Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to take more action to protect U.S. diplomats from harassment and acoustic attacks during their service in Cuba. They’re urging Tillerson to remind the Cuban government of its obligation to protect American diplomats and to demand that it take verifiable action to remove these threats to American diplomats and their families. The senators also asked Tillerson to immediately declare all accredited Cuban diplomats in the United States persona non grata and, if Cuba does not take tangible action, to close the U.S. embassy in Havana. In recent months, U.S. Foreign Service officers on temporary duty assigned to the embassy in Havana were mysteriously attacked at four hotels, triggering a range of symptoms in line with similar attacks that began in late 2016, according to a source familiar with the incidents. The first hotel attack began in March, according to the source who identified the hotels as the Nacional, Melia Cohiba, Melia Habana and Capri. The Associated Press first reported Thursday an American diplomat was attacked at the Hotel Capri. Three of the four hotels are within walking distance to the Malecón, Havana’s famed seaside esplanade, and the U.S. embassy.