Diplomatic Briefing

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Newsline: Arrested Russian Activist Denied Access to Diplomats by US

Russia’s embassy in the United States is demanding consular access to imprisoned Russian national Mariia Butina, 29, who is accused by US authorities of acting as an unregistered foreign agent. “As the materials of the court case are classified, the interests of this woman of Russia illustrate her need for a qualified lawyer,” the embassy wrote on Facebook, vowing to “continue to defend” her rights with legal advocacy. For more than a day, Russian officials have been demanding consular access to Butina. “We are in contact with the US authorities and demand from them consular access to the Russian citizen in order to protect her legitimate rights,” the embassy tweeted Monday after the charges against her were announced by the US Department of Justice (DOJ). Butina was arrested Sunday on the charge of “Conspiracy to Act as an Agent of a Foreign Government.” Tuesday, the DOJ added the additional charge of “Acting as an Agent of a Foreign Government.” The original charge was that of conspiracy, but the new one seems to accuse her of materially conducting the act.



Newsline: Ethiopia to reopen embassy in Eritrea

Ethiopia will also reopen its embassy in neighbouring Eritrea at a yet to be announced date, the country’s Minister for Government Communications Affairs, Ahmed Shide, said in a tweet. The Minister cited an official of the foreign affairs ministry as stating that aside the reopening of the embassy in Asmara, Ethiopia was also working to fully implement the terms of a recently signed pece deal between the two nations. Eritrea on Monday opened its embassy in Addis Ababa after the facility was closed down two decades ago when the two countries engaged in a border war that killed thousands. The reopening was witnessed by Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Eritrean president Isaias Afwerki.


Newsline: US embassy in Jerusalem to cost nearly 100 times Trump’s estimate

The new US embassy in Jerusalem is going to cost a bit more than President Donald Trump had estimated. Make that nearly 100 times more. The Maryland-based firm Desbuild Limak D&K was awarded a $21.2 million contract to design and build “compound security upgrades” to the embassy, according to official documents uploaded this week, Al-Monitor reported. The US has already spent $335,402 to refurbish the embassy, formerly a consulate, ahead of its May opening. “We’re going to have it built very quickly and inexpensively,” Trump told reporters in March following his decision months earlier to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and relocate the US embassy there. “They put an order in front of my desk last week for $1 billion. … We’re actually doing it for about $250,000, so check that out.”


Newsline: Diplomacy prevails around empty embassy sites in Canberra

The National Capital Authority has asked the Russian Embassy to get a move on with its Forster Crescent block, which is lying undeveloped in Yarralumla despite earlier calls to use it or lose it. Last month authority chief planner Andrew Smith confirmed he had written to the embassy asking about the status of the land, where a large fence surrounds a site where grass grows over mounds of dirt and unpacked bricks are piled. The Yarralumla block is in the diplomatic enclave and within view of Parliament House. Russia was reported to be starting work in 2015, but last year, it revealed that the builder it had engaged to develop the site had gone broke. Also in 2015, Iran was given a deadline of early 2015 to start construction at its prime Yarralumla block which had been sitting empty for about 20 years. But around the corner from the Russian block, across from the sprawling United States mission, a block leased by the Iranian Embassy remains empty. Although the Iranian mission had plans to develop the site this year, it has been stymied by the recent death of the architect it engaged to oversee a new building. These are just two examples of an ongoing problem with leases on Canberra’s diplomatic estate, overseen by the National Capital Authority. The “use it or lose policy”, introduced as part of an inquiry launched in 2012 into vacant embassy blocks, has forced many diplomatic missions to stop stalling on plans to develop their allocated land, or risk giving it up for other nations. But while there is no more free land in Canberra’s diplomatic areas, Mr Smith said there were still at least 12 parcels of land in Yarralumla, Deakin and O’Malley that are leased by foreign missions but remain undeveloped, although all the lessees had taken action to prove there were plans “in the pipeline”. In the meantime, the authority has been told to expect “one or two countries” to seek permission to establish missions in Canberra annually over the next 20 years, while still managing the ongoing demand for expanded or relocated missions. Other options, such as allowing existing embassies to subdivide their sites and hand back existing land, or to establish missions in commercial areas, have been successful, but many countries still, unsurprisingly, want large sites to build free-standing embassies or compounds.


Newsline: Poland demands explanation after diplomat beaten up in Russia

The Polish embassy in Moscow has demanded an explanation after a Polish diplomat was beaten up in Russia. The incident took place when the diplomat was on a plane to Moscow from the far-eastern Russian city of Irkutsk, public broadcaster Polish Radio’s IAR news agency reported, citing a spokesman for the foreign ministry in Warsaw. The assailant, who appeared to be mentally unstable, was detained after the incident, the spokesman, Artur Lompart, said, according to IAR. The Polish diplomat was provided with immediate assistance, underwent a medical examination and has since returned to Poland, Lompart said.


Newsline: Julian Assange Soon May Be Kicked Out of Ecuadorean Embassy

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange may soon be evicted from the Ecuadorean Embassy in London after six years as high-level talks continue between that country and Britain, The New York Post reported. Citing The Times of London, the Post said that Assange’s fate at the embassy, where he has been since 2012, depended on the outcome of the discussions. Former President Rafael Correa granted Assange, 47, asylum after he was accused of sexual assault and rape in Sweden. But his successor, Lenin Moreno, who was elected in May, considers Assange an inherited problem and has ripped him as a “stone in the shoe.”


Newsline: British Ex-ambassador to US Christopher Meyer Brutally Attacked in London

A former British ambassador to the US is recovering in hospital following a brutal attack at a subway station that left him with severe facial injuries. Sir Christopher Meyer, 74, was left with heavily swollen eyes, a suspected broken nose, and a split lip after two youths beat him at London’s Victoria station. Meyer’s wife was cited by the Guardian as saying that the police believe the incident was a robbery gone bad. “The police told me they believe that it is more likely that they might have wanted to rob him,” said Lady Meyer. “Nothing was taken, but the transport police intervened quickly.”