Diplomatic Briefing

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Archive for April 12, 2022

Newsline: Diplomats from Italy and Spain Hold Talks to Head Off Tension Over Algerian Gas

Diplomats from Italy and Spain are holding talks after Rome’s move to secure large volumes of Algerian gas stoked concerns in Madrid that its own access to the key fuel could be affected, according to people familiar with the situation. (https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2022-04-12/italy-and-spain-hold-talks-to-head-off-tension-over-algeria-gas) Europe is scrambling to displace Russian sources of energy following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. Italy’s deal for extra volumes from Algeria — equivalent to about 12% of its demand — is a significant step toward easing dependence on Russia.

Newsline: Passover gift from Chinese Embassy to Israeli minister bugged

A gift sent to an Israeli minister from the Chinese Embassy recently put security teams on their toes when it set off a loud alarm during routine screening. On further scrutiny a thermal mug – part of a big gift basket for the Jewish festival of Passover – was found bugged with a suspected listening device. Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that the basket meant for Science, Technology and Space Minister Orit Farkash-Hacohen was immediately sent to the country’s security agency Shin Bet. All Chinese gift baskets sent out to different Israeli ministries have been collected for a thorough probe. (https://www.msn.com/en-in/news/world/passover-gift-from-chinese-embassy-to-israeli-minister-bugged-says-report/ar-AAW8EP8) The Culture and Sports Ministry said they had received a message from the Chinese embassy saying a cup was expected to arrive on Tuesday. Army Radio reported that Israeli government ministries were instructed to be cautious of gifts from other embassies, particularly the Chinese, due to fears of inbuilt listening devices or cameras. They have been asked to hand over such gifts to security officials and avoid bringing them to office. The Chinese embassy has rubbished the accusation and said it was spread by “forces that want to undermine Israeli-Chinese relations”. China last year replaced the US as Israel’s biggest exporter.

Newsline: EU Plans To Counter Russia With Food Diplomacy

The EU aims to address rising wheat and fertilizer prices and expected shortages in the Balkans, North Africa and the Middle East with “food diplomacy” to counter Russia’s narrative on the impact of its Ukraine invasion, EU diplomats and officials say. Food insecurity was causing “resentment” in vulnerable countries in these regions, while Moscow was portraying the crisis as a consequence of Western sanctions on Russia, one European Union diplomat said. This posed a potential threat to EU influence, the diplomat said, which it plans to tackle with “food diplomacy and a battle of narratives”. (https://www.ibtimes.com/eu-plans-counter-russia-food-diplomacy-north-africa-balkans-3471278) President Vladimir Putin said last week that the West’s sanctions against Russia had fomented a global food crisis and spiralling energy prices. EU neighbours, particularly Egypt and Lebanon, are highly dependent on wheat and fertilizers from Ukraine and Russia. They face a price spike after a drop in supplies since Moscow began what it calls a “special military operation” in Ukraine. “We cannot take the risk of losing the region,” a second European diplomat added. The 27-member bloc also wants to boost international efforts to mitigate the impact of shortages and will together with the U.N. World Food Programme announce new initiatives on Tuesday. EU officials say French diplomats have considered the setting up of a global food distribution mechanism for poorer nations, while Hungary has suggested boosting the EU’s agricultural output by altering its climate goals.

Newsline: Antiwar voices call for diplomacy in Ukraine

Kyiv’s top diplomat told reporters that he had just three items on his agenda as he arrived in Brussels to meet with NATO allies: “Weapons, weapons and weapons.” “The more weapons we get, and the sooner they arrive in Ukraine, the more human lives will be saved,” said Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba. “This is my message to the allies. It’s very simple.” (https://www.salon.com/2022/04/08/antiwar-voices-call-for-diplomacy-in-ukraine-not-just-weapons-weapons-weapons_partner/) But Kuleba proceeded to acknowledge a tension that foreign policy analysts and peace advocates have been grappling with since Russia launched its attack on Ukraine at the end of February, an assault that has since killed thousands of civilians and sparked a large-scale humanitarian crisis. But antiwar voices have openly questioned the notion — expressed by Kuleba and others — that continuing to rush deadly weapons into a war zone will ultimately increase the likelihood of a diplomatic resolution, which Russia and Ukraine are both pursuing even as they accuse each other of heinous crimes and provocations. Observers have also charged the U.S. with not doing nearly enough to advance the ongoing peace talks.

Newsline: Sri Lanka’s top diplomat in Beijing hopeful for $2.5bn rescue loan from China

Sri Lanka’s top diplomat in Beijing said he’s very confident that China will come through on $2.5 billion in financial support as the island nation’s inflation-driven crisis becomes more dire. Ambassador Palitha Kohona said that he’d received reassurances as recently as last week from authorities in China that arrangements for loans and credit lines were progressing. Sri Lanka is looking to borrow $1 billion from Beijing so that it can repay existing Chinese loans due in July, as well as a $1.5 billion credit line to purchase goods from the world’s No. 2 economy such as textiles needed to support the apparel export industry, he said. “For us, it can’t come any sooner,” Kohona said, adding that it could be a matter of weeks. He wasn’t able to give a precise timeframe, and didn’t disclose the terms of the funding. “Given the current circumstances, there aren’t that many countries that can step out to the pitch and do something,” he said. “China is one of those countries that can do something very quickly.” (https://www.aljazeera.com/economy/2022/4/12/sri-lanka-hopeful-for-a-2-5bn-rescue-loan-from-china) Sri Lanka is embroiled in its worst economic crisis in decades, as consumer prices rose the fastest in Asia at about 19% last month. Soaring costs, widespread power outages, and shortages of food and medicine have fueled street protests and left President Gotabaya Rajapaksa with a minority in parliament.

Newsline: Iran summons Afghan envoy over attack on diplomatic missions

Iran on Tuesday summoned Afghanistan’s envoy in Tehran over attacks the previous day on Iranian diplomatic missions in the neighboring country, state media in Iran reported. According to the reports, Iran’s foreign ministry summoned the Afghan chargé d’affaires in protest over Monday’s attacks on the Iranian Embassy in Kabul and the Iranian Consulate in Herat, where protests had turned aggressive. In Herat, angry Afghan protesters pelted the consulate with rocks. The ministry demanded that Afghanistan’s new Taliban rulers provide the missions with full security and said they stopped working until further notice. On Monday, ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said more needed to be done by the Taliban to ensure security to Iranian missions. (https://news.yahoo.com/iran-summons-afghan-envoy-over-080235035.html) In recent weeks, unverified videos purporting to show Afghan refugees being tortured in Iran have been published on social media, angering many Afghans. Iran has denied the accusations.

Newsline: U.S. orders non-emergency consular staff to leave Shanghai

The U.S. has ordered non-emergency government staff to leave Shanghai, which is under a tight lockdown to contain a COVID-19 surge. The State Department said the order announced late Monday is an upgrade from the “authorized” departure advisory last week that made the decision voluntary. The order covers non-emergency U.S. government employees at the consulate in Shanghai and their family members. Consular officers will remain on duty at the consulate. “Our change in posture reflects our assessment that it is best for our employees and their families to be reduced in number and our operations to be scaled down as we deal with the changing circumstances on the ground,” the announcement said. (https://news.yahoo.com/us-orders-consular-leave-shanghai-014107418.html) Many residents in the city of 26 million have been confined to their homes for up to three weeks as China maintains its “zero-COVID” strategy of handling outbreaks with strict isolation and mass testing. But people living under the restrictions have described an increasingly desperate situation, with families unable to leave their homes or obtain food and daily necessities, while people who test positive for the coronavirus have been forced into mass quarantine centers where conditions at times have been called crowded and unsanitary.

Newsline: OPEC’s Top Diplomat Tells EU That Russia Oil Crisis Is Beyond Its Control

OPEC’s top diplomat told European Union officials that the current crisis in global oil markets caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is beyond the group’s control. Russian oil supply losses stemming from current and future sanctions or a boycott by customers could potentially exceed 7 million barrels a day, OPEC Secretary General Mohammad Barkindo said on Monday. That would be far beyond the group’s capacity to replace, he told EU Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson, who had asserted the cartel’s responsibility to balance the market. (https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2022-04-11/opec-tells-eu-that-russia-oil-crisis-is-beyond-its-control) Simson said that the oil-producers group could tap its existing spare output capacity to assist in the crisis, according to an OPEC document seen by Bloomberg. Barkindo said that markets are being swayed by political factors rather than supply and demand, leaving little for the organization to do. OPEC nations such as Saudi Arabia have rebuffed calls from major consumers like the U.S. to fill in the gap left by Russia. Besides their view of the market, the kingdom and its allies may have other reasons for holding back. Riyadh jointly leads an alliance of global producers with Moscow known as OPEC+, and may also be keen to preserve its political ties with the Kremlin, which have helped the Saudis lessen their reliance on the U.S.