Diplomatic Briefing

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Archive for Regions

Newsline: Romania summons Austrian ambassador

Romania’s government has reacted with outrage after Austria blocked its bid to join the visa-free Schengen zone. Austria’s ambassador was summoned to explain a veto that Romanian officials called unjustified and an act of blackmail. Austrian Interior Minister Gerhard Karner justified his vote on the grounds of a migration crisis in south-eastern Europe. Landlocked Austria has demanded EU action over tens of thousands of undocumented migrants arriving from the Balkans. But Romania said it had nothing to do with this and accused Austria of playing political games. “This result is completely unfair and devoid of any objective motivation,” Romania’s Foreign Ministry said. Romania’s Deputy Prime Minister Hunor Kelemen accused Austria of “miserable blackmail”. “Austria’s veto is unfair, immoral, lacking solid arguments, showing a miserable political game,” he said. (https://www.thenationalnews.com/world/europe/2022/12/09/romania-summons-austrian-ambassador-over-schengen-snub/) Austria’s ceremonial head of state Alexander van der Bellen also criticised his government’s veto on Friday. But the government said it was the wrong time to extend Schengen when border protection was not working well enough. The Austrian veto stopped Romania and Bulgaria from joining Schengen in an EU vote on Thursday. The Netherlands also voted against, but said its objection was to Bulgaria and not Romania.

Newsline: Russia summons Canadian ambassador

Russia said on Friday it had summoned Canada’s ambassador to the foreign ministry in Moscow in a tit-for-tat move. In a statement, the foreign ministry said Canada’s ambassador, Alison LeClaire, had been told that Ottawa was “fomenting an atmosphere of Russophobia”. (https://www.devdiscourse.com/article/business/2280918-russia-summons-canadian-ambassador-in-tit-for-tat-move) The statement cited Canada’s alleged “hostile policy” and statements about Russia’s actions.

Newsline: Anarchists claim arson attack on Italian embassy car in Athens

A Greek anarchist group has claimed responsibility for an arson attack on an Italian diplomat’s car in Athens. In a statement posted on a far-left website Thursday, a group calling itself “Revenge Cell Carlo Giuliani” said it carried out last Friday’s attack in a show of solidarity for Alfredo Cospito, an imprisoned Italian militant anarchist on hunger strike over prison conditions. (https://www.thestar.com/news/world/europe/2022/12/08/anarchists-claim-athens-arson-attack-on-italian-embassy-car.html) Carlo Giuliani was an anti-global protester killed during protests against a G8 meeting in Genoa in 2001. His name has been used before in claims of responsibility for arson attacks in Greece. Last Friday’s attack, which caused no injuries, targeted the car of Susanna Schlein, a career diplomat and the sister of prominent Italian lawmaker Elly Schlein. Fire service officials said a crude incendiary device exploded in the garage of the diplomat’s home in a northern Athens suburb, burning one car and damaging a second. After Friday’s arson attack, Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani met with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and discussed the incident.

Newsline: China slams attack on Pakistan’s embassy in Kabul

China condemned the attack on the Pakistani embassy in Kabul last week and said it firmly opposed all forms of violence and terrorist acts. “China strongly condemns and firmly opposes all forms of violence and terrorist acts,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said in response to a question raised by APP. “We extend sympathy to the injured (person) in the attack,” the spokesperson said. Mao Ning remarked that China had been closely following the security situation in Afghanistan, and added, “China will continue to firmly support Afghanistan in combating all forms of terrorism and violence to safeguard its national security and stability.” (https://dailytimes.com.pk/1036937/china-condemns-attack-on-pakistans-embassy-in-kabul/) Pakistan’s embassy in Kabul came under attack last Friday, leaving one security guard critically injured.

Newsline: US diplomat’s wife gets suspended sentence for killing UK teen in car crash

A US diplomat’s wife on Thursday narrowly avoided jail in Britain for killing a teenage motorcyclist by driving on the wrong side of the road and then fleeing the country. Anne Sacoolas was given an eight-month prison sentence suspended for 12 months, during which period she faces jail if she commits another offence. (https://news.yahoo.com/us-diplomats-wife-gets-suspended-163044617.html) She did not attend the sentencing hearing in London in person and followed proceedings by video-link. Harry Dunn, 19, died in August 2019 when his motorbike collided with Sacoolas’s car that she was driving on the wrong side of the road near a US airbase in southern England. She left Britain after the accident and the US government claimed she had immunity from criminal prosecution because she was at the base as a dependent of her husband. A request for her extradition was denied, turning the case into a high-profile diplomatic spat between London and Washington. Sacoolas was originally charged with causing death by dangerous driving but pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of careless driving which carries a maximum jail term of five years. Sacoolas had declined to attend court in person on the advice of the US government, her employer, which claimed her presence could “place significant US interests at risk”.

Newsline: U.S. decides not to send ambassador to Myanmar

The U.S. will downgrade its diplomatic relations with Myanmar, with the incumbent American ambassador, Thomas Vajda, returning home later this month and Washington deciding not to send a successor, Nikkei Asia has learned. “Deputy chief of mission Deborah Lynn will assume duties as charge d’affaires at [the] U.S. Embassy Rangoon upon Ambassador Vajda’s departure,” a State Department spokesperson responded to Nikkei by email. (https://asia.nikkei.com/Spotlight/Myanmar-Crisis/U.S.-to-downgrade-Myanmar-ties-decides-not-to-send-ambassador) Washington is making it clear that it does not recognize Myanmar’s military regime.

Newsline: Diplomacy results in U.S.-Russia prisoner swap

Brittney Griner is free. The 10-month saga ended Thursday with President Joe Biden announcing her return to the United States in a prisoner swap with Russia. Griner attempted to enter Russia in February and instead wound up facing drug charges that carried a nine-year prison sentence in a penal colony. The two-time Olympic gold medal winner and eight-time WNBA All-Star was “wrongfully detained,” according to the United States government, by Russia on charges of bringing vape cartridges filled with hashish oil in her luggage while returning to play for her professional team there. (https://sports.yahoo.com/brittney-griner-released-from-russian-prison-10-months-after-arrest-132117554.html) Griner remained in pre-trial detention for more than three months prior to her trial. On Aug. 4, she was officially convicted for drug possession and smuggling. Four months later, she was free. In exchange for her release, the U.S. government will reportedly send convicted international arms dealer Viktor Bout back to Russia, according to CBS News. Bout, nicknamed the “Merchant of Death,” was sentenced to 25 years in prison after being convicted of, among other things, conspiracy to kill Americans. Retired U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, who is also currently imprisoned in Russia for the past four years on espionage charges, is reportedly not part of the prisoner swap.

Newsline: China launches diplomatic charm offensive in the Middle East

Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday to market China as a competitive alternative to longtime U.S. dominance in the region. Xi is expected to be in Riyadh through Friday, mingling with at least 14 Middle Eastern leaders at the Gulf-China Summit for Cooperation and Development and the first-ever Arab-China Summit for Cooperation and Development. (https://news.yahoo.com/xi-jinping-takes-diplomatic-charm-175547579.html) It’s the latest in Xi’s diplomacy blitz that has included meetings with more than 25 heads of state since he secured a third term as China’s paramount leader in October. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning on Wednesday described the Arab-China summit as “epoch-making” and said Xi will seek Arab support for his signature Global Development and Global Security Initiatives. The summits allow Xi to position China as a friendly and reliable ally in stark contrast to the frosty fist bump and stern lecture on human rights that President Joe Biden delivered to Saudi Arabia’s de facto leader Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during his trip to the country in July.

Newsline: EU diplomats work on Kosovo-Serbia normalisation

The European Union has drafted a new proposal for normalisation of ties between Kosovo and Serbia with a clear timeline of actions, according to a senior EU diplomat, speaking on the sidelines of the EU-Western Balkans summit. The draft proposal was sent to both parties on Monday, the diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity. They added that they expected the two parties would reach a final agreement in less than a year. “There are a lot of things that make it a big step forward with respect to the current situation…. It’s not full recognition …but it is a full normalisation of relations,” the diplomat said. “After listening to both parties, we redrafted the proposal,” the diplomat said. The proposal contains an annex “with a clear calendar of actions – when and how things have to happen,” they said. The diplomat urged Pristina and Belgrade “to continue in their constructive engagement, and focus on making irreversible progress in normalisation.” (https://uk.investing.com/news/world-news/kosovo-to-apply-for-eu-membership-by-yearend–president-2848538) Belgrade and Pristina committed in 2013 to an EU-sponsored dialogue to resolve outstanding issues, but little progress has been made. Agreement with Kosovo remains one of the main pre-conditions for Serbia joining the EU.

Newsline: Chinese secret police stations prompt call for consulate closures

Countries should shut down Chinese consulates until the communist regime closes its network of illegal policing operations, a former deputy national security adviser said after nearly 50 additional stations were reportedly found. Safeguard Defenders, a pan-Asian human rights organization, published an investigation Monday, called “Patrol and Persuade,” reporting that another 48 Chinese police service stations were operating abroad in addition to the 54 the group had identified in September. The reported locations span 53 countries, including four U.S.-based stations: two in New York City, one in Los Angeles and one set up by the Nantong Public Security Bureau in an undisclosed location. (https://www.foxnews.com/world/shut-them-down-chinese-secret-police-stations-reportedly-found-prompting-call-consulate-closures) Since the campaign’s launch in April 2021, 230,000 Chinese nationals have been “persuaded to return” home to face prosecution for alleged crimes, according to the Ministry of Public Security in China. China’s Foreign Ministry has denied that it’s running undeclared police forces and said the locations provide services to its citizens living abroad, like renewing IDs and driver’s licenses. However, the newly reported stations were set up as early as 2016, according to Safeguard Defenders’ investigation, disputing China’s statements that the operations were started in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.