Diplomatic Briefing

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Archive for February 27, 2023

Newsline: US ambassador urges China to be ‘more honest’ about Covid origins

US Ambassador to China Nicholas Burns said Monday that China will have to “be more honest about what happened three years ago in Wuhan with the origin of the Covid-19 crisis” if the US and China are going to be able to work together. Burns added that the Chinese surveillance balloon and Beijing’s position on the war in Ukraine are “two of the most important issues that we’re dealing with right now.” (http://edition.cnn.com/2023/02/27/politics/china-covid-origins-us/index.html) Burns’ comments on Covid were made in reference to strengthening the World Health Organization, in response to a question about political polarization in the US and how it impacts America’s standing and ability to tackle geopolitical challenges. Burns was speaking at a US Chamber of Commerce event the day after news emerged that the Department of Energy assessed with “low confidence” that the deadly pandemic likely originated from a lab leak. While Burns was not speaking specifically about the latest assessment, the Department of Energy’s new finding underscores how US intelligence agencies remain divided on the origins of the pandemic – in part because Beijing has not been cooperative with efforts to investigate the matter.

Newsline: Norwegian woke Russian diplomats in Oslo after 2 a.m. with air raid siren

A 73-year-old in Oslo gave Russian diplomats a rude awakening by blasting a siren outside their bedroom windows, according to a local report. On Friday night at around 2.30 a.m. local time, Kjetil Krane carried a loudspeaker out to an apartment block known to house workers at Oslo’s Russian embassy, Nettavisen reported. Standing in the freezing cold, Krane played the sound of a Japanese foghorn, which bears a striking resemblance to an air-raid siren, according to the outlet. (https://news.yahoo.com/norwegian-guy-woke-russian-diplomats-141510754.html) Krane told the outlet that he wanted the diplomats to wake up over the issue of the war, both literally and figuratively. In a poster he distributed around the neighborhood ahead of time, and pictured by Nettavisen, he gave advance warning and reassurance about his actions. Police were called out and patrolled the area, but only after Krane had left, according to Nettavisen.

Newsline: Egypt’s top diplomat visits Syria and Turkey first time in decade

Egypt’s foreign minister met Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Monday in the first visits to Syria and Turkey by a top Egyptian diplomat in a decade. “The goal of the visit is primarily humanitarian, and to pass on our solidarity – from the leadership, the government and the people of Egypt to the people of Syria,” Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry told reporters in Damascus. Egypt was looking forward to providing more quake assistance “in full coordination with the Syrian government” after already having donated some 1,500 tonnes, Shoukry added, standing alongside Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad. “When the foreign minister of Egypt comes to Damascus, he comes to his home, his people, and his country,” Mekdad said. (https://neuters.de/world/middle-east/egypts-foreign-minister-visits-syria-first-time-since-war-2023-02-27/) The earthquake killed more than 5,900 people in Syria, the bulk of them in the rebel-held northwest. In Turkey, the death toll stands at more than 44,000. Assad has benefited from an outpouring of Arab support since devastating earthquakes hit his country and neighbouring Turkey this month, helping to ease the diplomatic isolation he has faced over Syria’s civil war which began in 2011. The Arab League suspended Syria in 2011 over the government’s deadly crackdown on protests, and many U.S.-allied Arab states backed the opposition seeking to topple Assad. But a number of Arab states, most prominently the United Arab Emirates, have shifted approach towards normalising ties in recent years, after Assad defeated his insurgent enemies across much of the country helped by Iran and Russia. Shoukry did not respond to reporters’ questions on whether Egypt would support lifting the Arab League’s suspension of Syria.