Diplomatic Briefing

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Newsline: Taiwan foreign minister to travel to Europe next week

Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu will make a previously unannounced visit to Europe next week, four sources briefed on the matter said, and is expected to appear with the Czech president at one event in a diplomatic breakthrough. Taiwan, which is claimed by China, has no formal diplomatic ties with any European country except the Vatican. Beijing regularly denounces any form of contact between Taiwanese and foreign officials, viewing it as encouraging global recognition of Taiwan’s separate status from China. Two of the sources, who like the others spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorised to speak with the media, said Wu was expected visit Brussels, headquarters of the European Union, but declined to give details. Two of the other sources said he would also visit Prague. Wu will attend a security conference in Prague on June 14, and is due to speak immediately after Czech President Petr Pavel opens the event. This would be highly unusual given European leaders generally do not share the stage with senior Taiwanese officials, one of the sources said. (https://neuters.de/world/taiwan-foreign-minister-make-europe-trip-next-week-sources-2023-06-08/) Taiwan’s foreign ministry declined to comment on Wu’s Europe travel plans. Pavel’s office did not answer calls seeking comment. The European External Action Service, the EU’s foreign affairs arm, declined to comment on the Brussels plans, saying: “It is not for us to communicate about third partners’ visits and activities”. China’s Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Newsline: US, Saudi top diplomats urge repatriation of detained IS recruits

The United States and Saudi Arabia urged countries to take back citizens captured in the fight against Islamic State, with the kingdom’s top diplomat saying it was “absolutely unacceptable” that wealthy countries skirted that responsibility. “I would say to those countries, you must step up,” Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan told a meeting of the U.S.-led coalition in Riyadh. Speaking at the same conference, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said repatriation was key to ensuring the lasting defeat of Islamic State. He said detention centers were holding nearly 10,000 Islamic State fighters, 2,000 of whom are from countries other than Syria and Iraq. “Failure to repatriate foreign terrorist fighters risks the possibility that they could again take up arms and attempt to restore ISIS’s so-called caliphate,” Blinken said. (https://neuters.de/world/middle-east/us-saudi-top-diplomats-urge-repatriation-detained-is-recruits-2023-06-08/) Blinken announced nearly $150 million for Syrians and Iraqis to help improve humanitarian conditions, noting that hardship and disillusionment provided a breeding ground for Islamic State recruits.

Newsline: Israel mulls diplomatic recognition of Morocco’s rule over Western Sahara

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s national security adviser visited Rabat on Wednesday as his government mulls a possible announcement of recognition of Morocco’s sovereignty over disputed Western Sahara, officials said. Morocco considers Western Sahara its own, but the Algeria-backed Polisario front demands an independent state there. In 2020, then-U.S. President Donald Trump recognised Morocco’s rule over the territory in return for its partial upgrade of relations with Israel. A diplomatic source told Reuters such a move by Israel could lead to a full upgrade of bilateral ties, with the countries’ respective missions, currently designated as liaison offices, becoming economic embassies, and a free-trade pact possible down the line. (https://neuters.de/world/israel-considers-recognition-moroccos-rule-over-western-sahara-2023-06-07/) Israel’s foreign ministry declined comment on the issue. But a source in Netanyahu’s cabinet acknowledged it was being discussed within the country’s National Security Council (NSC).

Newsline: Mexico top diplomat quits seeking presidential nomination

Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard, one of the leading contenders to be the country’s next leader, said he will resign to focus on winning the presidential nomination of the ruling party for the 2024 election. “I have resolved to request and present my resignation from the foreign ministry as of Monday, June 12,” Ebrard told a press conference in the capital surrounded by cheering supporters. (https://neuters.de/world/americas/mexico-foreign-minister-quit-seek-ruling-party-presidential-ticket-2023-06-07/) Mexico’s U.N. ambassador Juan Ramon de la Fuente and ambassador to the U.S. Esteban Moctezuma are seen by many analysts as the favorites to replace Ebrard as foreign minister. Ebrard, a former mayor of Mexico City, wants to succeed President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador as the standard-bearer of the leftist National Regeneration Movement (MORENA), which now dominates national politics. However, for months, opinion polls have tended to give his main rival, Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum, a slight edge in the race.

Newsline: US top diplomat had ‘candid’ talks with Saudi crown prince

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken had an “open, candid” conversation with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the early hours of Wednesday about a wide range of bilateral issues, a U.S. official said. The top U.S. diplomat arrived in Saudi Arabia late on Tuesday for a much anticipated visit amid frayed ties due to deepening disagreements on everything from Iran policy to regional security issues, oil prices and human rights. Blinken and the crown prince, known as MbS, met for an hour and forty minutes, a U.S. official said, covering topics including Israel, the conflict in Yemen, unrest in Sudan as well as human rights. “There was a good degree of convergence on potential initiatives where we share the same interests, while also recognising where we have differences,” the U.S. official said. A good part of the discussion was expected to be dominated by the possible normalisation of ties between Saudi Arabia and Israel, even though officials had played down the likelihood of any immediate or major progress on the issue. “They discussed the potential for normalization of relations with Israel and agreed to continued dialogue on the issue,” the U.S. official said, without providing further details. (https://neuters.de/world/saudi-crown-prince-blinken-had-candid-talks-jeddah-us-official-2023-06-07/) Washington has struggled to steady the relationship with Riyadh, where the de facto ruler Prince Mohammed has dominated the decision-making, and as the traditional oil-for-security alliance crumbled under the emergence of the United States as a major oil producer. Blinken’s visit came days after top crude exporter Saudi Arabia pledged to deepen oil output cuts on top of a broader OPEC+ deal to limit supply, as it seeks to boost flagging oil prices despite opposition from the U.S. administration.

Newsline: US top diplomat to travel to China in coming weeks

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will travel to China for talks in the coming weeks, an official said on Tuesday, months after Washington’s top diplomat scrapped a planned trip over a suspected Chinese spy balloon that flew across the U.S. The visit is intended by Washington to be a major step toward what President Joe Biden has called a “thaw” in relations between the world’s two largest economies. Blinken postponed a visit to Beijing in February after the balloon, which Beijing denies was a government spy vessel, flew through U.S. airspace and over sensitive military sites, eventually being shot down by the U.S. military and creating a diplomatic crisis. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, did not elaborate on timing. The State Department did not confirm any updated plans for Blinken’s trip. “We have no travel for the Secretary to announce; as we’ve said previously the visit to the People’s Republic of China will be rescheduled when conditions allow,” deputy spokesman Vedant Patel said. (https://neuters.de/world/blinken-set-travel-china-talks-coming-weeks-bloomberg-2023-06-06/) China’s Washington embassy did not respond to a request for comment.

Newsline: Senegal temporarily closes consulates following attacks

Senegal has temporarily closed its consulates abroad following attacks on diplomatic missions in Bordeaux, Milan, Paris and New York among others, the foreign affairs ministry said on Tuesday. The closures were announced in the wake of deadly unrest that broke out after a leading opposition figure, Ousmane Sonko, was handed a two-year jail sentence last week that is likely to prevent him from running for president in elections next year. At least 16 people were killed and hundreds injured as protesters clashed with security forces on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, making it the worst unrest to hit the West African country in decades. The foreign affairs ministry did not link the attacks that justified provisionally closing Senegal’s consulates to Sonko’s sentence or the ensuing violence. “This precautionary measure was taken following a series of aggressions … that caused serious damage,” it said in a statement. (https://neuters.de/world/africa/senegal-temporarily-shuts-consulates-abroad-following-attacks-several-cities-2023-06-06/) The general consulate in Milan was hit particularly hard, with passport-making machines and identity cards destroyed, the ministry said. Services will resume once working materials and security are restored, it added. Italy’s public broadcaster Rai News reported an assault on Milan’s consulate on Monday during which it said around 40 Sonko supporters gathered outside the building with flags and anti-government signs. They broke in and ransacked the premises, attacked the consul general and started a fire before police intervened. Videos on social media on Friday showed a small group of protesters in Paris throwing flour at a Senegal embassy car and its passengers. Reuters did not verify the footage.

Newsline: Iran’s embassy reopens in Saudi Arabia

Iran officially reopened its embassy in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, a Reuters witness said, following a deal to re-establish ties and ease a long rivalry that fuelled conflicts across the Middle East. A ceremony was held inside the embassy’s compound with dozens of diplomats and officials attending the reopening of the diplomatic mission for the first time in seven years. “We consider today an important day in the relations between Islamic Republic of Iran and Saudi Arabia,” Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister for Consular Affairs Alireza Bikdeli said. “The region will move Inshallah (God willing) towards greater cooperation and convergence to achieve stability, prosperity and progress,” Bikdeli said in a speech during the ceremony. (https://neuters.de/world/middle-east/irans-embassy-reopens-saudi-capital-riyadh-al-arabiya-tv-2023-06-06/) In March, Iran and Saudi Arabia agreed, in a deal brokered by China, to end a diplomatic rift and re-establish relations following years of hostility that had endangered regional stability including in Yemen, Syria and Lebanon. The deal also highlighted China’s growing influence in the Middle East.

Newsline: State Department says US, Chinese diplomats held productive talks

A senior U.S. diplomat held candid and productive talks on Monday with Chinese officials, the State Department said. The visit to Beijing by Daniel Kritenbrink, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, followed China’s snub last week of U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who had sought a formal meeting with his Chinese counterpart. Kritenbrink, U.S. Ambassador to China Nicholas Burns and National Security Council official Sarah Beran met with Chinese foreign ministry officials Ma Zhaoxu and Yang Tao, the State Department said in a statement. “The two sides had candid and productive discussions as part of ongoing efforts to maintain open lines of communication and build on recent high-level diplomacy between the two countries,” the statement said, adding that they exchanged views on the bilateral relationship, cross-Strait issues and other matters. “U.S. officials made clear that the United States would compete vigorously and stand up for U.S. interests and values,” it said. (https://neuters.de/world/chinese-state-media-dismisses-us-diplomats-visit-beijing-2023-06-05/) Kritenbrink’s arrival on June 4 coincided with the 34th anniversary of the 1989 crackdown by Chinese troops on demonstrators in and around Beijing’s Tiananmen Square that rights groups say killed hundreds, if not thousands, of protesters.

Newsline: Syrian top diplomat visits key ally Iraq

Syria’s foreign minister discussed humanitarian aid and combating the illegal drugs trade with key ally Iraq during a visit to Baghdad as Damascus emerges from years of diplomatic isolation. During the visit, Mekdad met with Prime Minister Mohamed Shia al-Sudani and conveyed “an invitation to visit Damascus” on an unspecified date, a statement from the Iraqi premier’s office said. Baghdad was “one of the initiators” of Syria’s return to the Arab League, Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein said in a joint press conference with Mekdad. The two also discussed the issue of Syrian refugees who fled the country after war erupted, many of whom now live in Iraq as well as Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. (https://news.yahoo.com/syrian-top-diplomat-discusses-aid-113003712.html) The visit by Faisal Mekdad comes weeks after the Arab League agreed to end Syria’s suspension from the 22-member bloc, bringing President Bashar al-Assad’s regime back into the regional fold after years of civil war. Iraq remained an ally of Damascus throughout the wider Arab boycott, never severing relations and maintaining close cooperation during Syria’s civil war, particularly over the fight against the Islamic State group.