Diplomatic Briefing

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Archive for December 12, 2022

Newsline: U.S. court hears testimony on diplomatic status of Venezuela’s envoy

A U.S. court on Monday began hearing testimony from Venezuelan officials on the diplomatic status of Alex Saab, an ally of President Nicolas Maduro who is in a Miami jail awaiting trial on a charge of money laundering. Saab’s attorneys have asked U.S. District Judge Robert Scola to dismiss the charge, arguing Saab was on a diplomatic mission to Iran to buy fuel and humanitarian supplies when he was arrested while his plane refueled in Cape Verde islands in the Atlantic Ocean. U.S. prosecutors said Saab, a Colombia-born businessman who was extradited in 2021 from Cape Verde, siphoned around $350 million out of Venezuela via the United States as part of a scheme that involved bribing Venezuelan government officials. Prosecutors said Saab should not be recognized as a diplomat and they dispute the veracity of documents provided by the defense. Prosecutors said a digital copy of an Official Gazette, a government publication that records Venezuelan government appointments, was altered to include his designation as a diplomat and that the original document makes no such reference. (https://neuters.de/legal/us-court-hears-testimony-diplomatic-status-ally-venezuelas-maduro-2022-12-12/) Evidence provided by Saab’s defense at best showed he had the status of a “special mission” diplomat and that does not provide diplomatic immunity under the Vienna Convention, prosecutors said.

Newsline: EU diplomat says gas price cap agreement ‘not there yet’

The European Union’s member states are moving in the right direction to agree a planned cap on gas prices but they are “not there yet”, an EU diplomat said on Monday. (https://neuters.de/business/energy/eu-not-there-yet-gas-price-cap-agreement-eu-diplomat-says-2022-12-12/) Gas prices in Europe have soared this year after Russia slashed gas deliveries, pushing up fuel costs and stoking inflation. EU countries held emergency negotiations on Saturday as they attempt to line up a deal to cap prices at a Dec. 13 meeting of their energy ministers, but states remain split over the plan.

Newsline: Chinese embassy in Kabul monitoring consequences of attack near Chinese hotel

Armed men opened fire on Monday inside a hotel in central Kabul popular with Chinese nationals in an attack that ended when at least three gunmen were killed by security forces, the Taliban-run administration said. Two foreigners were injured while trying to escape by jumping from the hotel balcony, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid wrote on Twitter. Taliban sources said the attack was carried out at Longan Hotel where Chinese and other foreigners usually stay. (https://neuters.de/world/asia-pacific/armed-men-open-fire-kabul-building-housing-foreigners-sources-2022-12-12/) The attack came a day after China’s ambassador met the Afghan deputy foreign minister to discuss security-related matters and sought more attention on the protection of its embassy. China’s state-run Xinhua news agency said the attack happened near a Chinese guesthouse and its embassy in Kabul was closely monitoring the situation. The embassy did not respond to a Reuters request for comment. Several bombings have taken place in Afghanistan in recent months, including an attack on the Pakistan embassy earlier this month and a suicide blast near the Russian embassy in September. Both attacks were claimed by the Islamic State.

Newsline: EU top diplomats to discuss Iran, Russia, Eastern Partnership

European Union foreign ministers will try to agree on further sanctions on Russia and Iran and an additional 2 billion euros ($2.11 billion) for arms deliveries to Ukraine at a meeting in Brussels on Monday. However, it remained unclear whether Hungary will block some decisions, resorting to what diplomats have denounced as “blackmail diplomacy” due to a dispute over locked EU funds for Budapest. “There is agreement, in principle, but there’s also the big elephant in the room,” a senior EU diplomat told reporters, referring to Budapest’s use of its veto power. “It’s a type of blackmail diplomacy that we would rather not see but it is what it is.” (https://neuters.de/world/europe/eu-discuss-russia-iran-sanctions-top-up-ukraine-arms-fund-2022-12-12/) Foreign ministers are due to review new sanctions on Iranian people and organisations over human rights abuses in Tehran’s crackdown on protesters and the supply of drones to Russia. “We are going to approve a very tough package of sanctions”, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said ahead of the meeting. EU foreign ministers will also discuss a ninth package of Russia sanctions that is set to place almost 200 more individuals and entities on the EU sanctions list, but Borrell stressed there was still no agreement on this at this stage. He hoped that could come later on Monday or on Tuesday. Before their meeting, ministers will talk with their counterparts from the Eastern Partnership – Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine – nations the EU has sought to stabilise in the face of Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Newsline: Vanuatu’s top diplomat calls Australia a ‘close security partner’ for region

Australia is a close security and humanitarian partner for Vanuatu and the Pacific island’s new government has not held security discussions with China, Vanuatu’s foreign minister said on Monday. Vanuatu Foreign Minister Jotham Napat told reporters in Port Vila on Monday that Australia was “a close security partner of Vanuatu and the region”, where climate change was seen as the biggest security threat. “We also took the opportunity to acknowledge Australia’s role as Vanuatu’s primary humanitarian partner due to its close proximity and through its commitment to support Vanuatu, its disaster resilience, response and recovery capabilities,” he said. He pointed to the wharf and police barracks built with Australian funding as examples of security cooperation between the two nations. Vanuatu has “not established any security agreement, we have not even discussed any matter in relation to security” with China, he told reporters in response to questions. (https://neuters.de/world/asia-pacific/australia-close-security-partner-region-vanuatu-minister-2022-12-12/) Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong is visiting Vanuatu with a bipartisan delegation to open an Australia-funded wharf at a maritime police base, and hold talks on improving work and education opportunities in Australia for Vanuatu citizens. Australia stepped up its diplomacy throughout the Pacific islands after the Solomon Islands signed a security pact with Beijing in April. China has been a significant lender for infrastructure projects in Vanuatu in recent years, building its parliament house and sporting stadiums.

Newsline: US Sees China Toning Down Assertive Diplomacy

China’s assertive diplomacy in recent years has “backfired” and Beijing now seeks a more predictable relationship with the U.S. as the country’s economy slows and the government tries to loosen its strict COVID-19 curbs, the Biden administration’s top Asia official said. Elements of China’s aggressive “wolf warrior” diplomacy have clearly been unsuccessful, while efforts to challenge Japan over islands in the East China Sea and engage in military confrontations with India in Himalayas have hurt Beijing’s standing in the world, said Kurt Campbell, who is the White House coordinator for the Indo-Pacific. “They’ve taken on and challenged many countries simultaneously — whether it’s, you know, Japanese waters around the Senkakus, issues associated with India’s border areas, other exploits that suggest perhaps a more ambitious China,” Campbell said at the Aspen Security Forum in Washington on Thursday. “I think they recognize that that has, in many respects, backfired.” (https://www.military.com/daily-news/2022/12/09/china-seeks-tone-down-assertive-diplomacy-backfired-us-official-says.html) Campbell’s comments are some of his most detailed since Chinese President Xi Jinping and President Joe Biden met on the sidelines of a Group of 20 summit in Bali, Indonesia, in November. He said that Washington and Beijing want to stabilize ties, especially with the two countries’ militaries operating in close proximity in Asia.