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Newsline: US, China top diplomats to meet on high tensions

The top US and Chinese diplomats meet Friday in New York as soaring tensions show signs of easing, but Beijing issued a new warning against support for Taiwan. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi are set to meet on the sidelines of the annual United Nations summit, their first encounter since extensive talks in July in Bali where both sides appeared optimistic for more stability. One month later, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan, infuriating Beijing which staged exercises seen as a trial run for an invasion of the self-governing democracy. In a sign of smoother ties, Wang said he met in New York with US climate envoy John Kerry despite China’s announcement after Pelosi’s visit that it was curbing cooperation on the issue, a key priority for Biden. But in a speech before his talks with Blinken, Wang reiterated anger over US support for Taiwan, which China considers part of its territory. (https://news.yahoo.com/us-china-top-diplomats-meet-015230512.html) President Joe Biden in an interview aired Sunday said he was ready to intervene militarily if China uses force, once again deviating from decades of US ambiguity.

Newsline: US embassy in Cuba to resume ‘full visa processing’ in 2023

The US embassy in Cuba said it would resume “full immigrant visa processing” next year for the first time since 2017, when the mission was closed over alleged sonic attacks on diplomatic staff. The announcement came as Cuba is experiencing an unprecedented exodus of undocumented migrants amid the communist country’s worst economic crisis in 30 years due to ramped-up US sanctions and the coronavirus pandemic. “This change will… eliminate the need for Cubans applying for immigrant visas in family preference categories to travel outside of Cuba to Georgetown, Guyana for their interviews,” the embassy said in a statement. (https://news.yahoo.com/us-embassy-cuba-resume-full-220731586.html) The United States evacuated its diplomatic staff and their families in 2017 after at least two dozen people suffered brain injuries that resembled concussion, but with no exterior signs of trauma. The embassy closure made obtaining a visa an expensive nightmare for Cubans, who now had to travel to a third country, at their own cost, to put in an application. Many have sought to make it to US shores even without a visa, many trying their luck without travel documents on long, dangerous journeys by sea or by road via Central America. According to US border police, a record 198,000 Cubans illegally entered the United States in the last 11 months. The US embassy resumed limited visa services in Havana in May, but announced “full resumption” from early 2023, enabled by an increase in embassy personnel.

Newsline: US brings carrot-and-stick diplomacy to UN

US President Joe Biden took a big carrot to the Big Apple for his UN speech — and for the Russians, an even bigger stick. In an approximately half-hour address Wednesday to the UN General Assembly, Biden covered a litany of global problems, from the war in Ukraine to tension around Taiwan, hunger in Africa and climate change everywhere. In every case, he said, the United States was ready to act. (https://news.yahoo.com/biden-brings-carrot-stick-diplomacy-020339928.html) It was confirmation of the credo Biden has preached since the day he took office: that America is back, and that means back on top. Unlike isolationist Donald Trump, who ditched international agreements, entered erratic relationships with US foes and treated US allies as a nuisance, Biden’s worldview, laid out from the podium of the UN’s huge hall, was more straightforward. The United States will get involved everywhere, he said. The only question is whether that will be with a carrot — or, as with Russia, a stick.

Newsline: US top diplomat urges diplomacy as Armenia, Azerbaijan FMs meet

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has urged “a durable peace” between Armenia and Azerbaijan, as the top United States diplomat brought the two nations’ foreign ministers together for their first in-person meeting since an outbreak of violence last week. Blinken hosted Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan and Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov at a New York City hotel on Monday on the sidelines of the annual United Nations General Assembly. It was the foreign ministers’ first face-to-face meeting since two days of shelling last week. Blinken said he was “encouraged” there had been no violence for several days. “Strong, sustainable diplomatic engagement is the best path for everyone,” he said ahead of the meeting. (https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/9/19/blinken-urges-diplomacy-as-armenia-azerbaijan-fms-meet) The meeting was held just a day after US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Armenia and condemned Azeri attacks, drawing complaints from Baku.

Newsline: Almost a dozen U.S. ambassadors to Latin America and the Caribbean are still not in place

Almost two years after President Joe Biden stepped into office, nearly a dozen ambassadors to key countries in the Western Hemisphere are still not in place, with eight nominees having their confirmation hearings put on hold by a Republican senator — all during a pivotal time in the region. Ambassadorial nominees to Nicaragua, Brazil, Panama, Uruguay, Trinidad and Tobago, Belize, El Salvador and the Organization of American States have been nominated but their confirmations are being held up by Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla. Biden recently nominated an ambassador to Ecuador and has yet to nominate ambassadors to the Dominican Republic, as well as Colombia — the strongest ally of the United States in the region which recently elected its first leftist president. Chile’s ambassador was recently confirmed after the position was vacant for close to four years. (https://news.yahoo.com/almost-dozen-u-ambassadors-latin-130525067.html) Finding candidates has become more difficult over the years because both the vetting and the confirmation processes have become more complex, and could become tedious and frustrating for the nominees. With Biden’s nominations to the region, partisan politics in Congress and what some have described as the administration foot-dragging have also complicated the confirmation process, even while they were still in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Newsline: U.S. Passport Renewal Is Coming Online

Following the success of a limited pilot program for online passport renewal this summer, the U.S. State Department says it plans to fully launch an online passport renewal option for the general public in early 2023. The shift, which for many will eliminate the need for piles of paperwork and hours spent waiting in line at passport offices, is meant to offer relief after the pandemic created two years of extensive delays and backlogs for passport seekers. The online renewal option was created following a December 2021 executive order from President Joe Biden, who demanded the federal government “design and deliver services in a manner that people of all abilities can navigate.” (https://www.nytimes.com/2022/09/16/travel/online-passport-renewal.html) An initial pilot program was launched in February for federal government employees and contractors. After that closed, a second program opened Aug. 2 for 25,000 members of the public; it closed to applicants on Aug. 12. State Department officials say they plan to initiate a third pilot program for a limited number of applicants later in September, and while they don’t yet have a specific date for launching the system for all Americans, they say they intend to do so by early 2023.

Newsline: US career diplomat to be nominated new ambassador to Russia

President Joe Biden plans to nominate Lynne Tracy, a career diplomat currently serving in Armenia, as the next US ambassador to Russia, according to three sources familiar with the matter. (https://cbs58.com/news/first-on-cnn-biden-to-nominate-new-ambassador-to-russia) Tracy, who speaks Russian and was the No. 2 diplomat in Moscow from 2014 to 2017, would be the first female to serve in the role. She has been ambassador to Armenia since 2019. The Biden administration hopes to get her in place swiftly to replace John Sullivan who stepped down earlier this month. The timing of her arrival and official nomination will depend on Russia agreeing to accept her as ambassador at a time of huge tension between Washington and Moscow as the war in Ukraine continues. Typically, the host country will approve the name of an ambassador pick before they are officially nominated through a process called agrément. The US has already given Tracy’s name to the Russians to begin that process, two sources said. US officials point out that Russia does want to maintain diplomatic relations with the US and could be motivated to accept Tracy without delaying the process to ensure their ambassador in Washington maintains access. A State Department spokesperson declined to comment. The nomination of Tracy will mark a complete overhaul of leadership at the embassy in Moscow. Sullivan had not been present in Russia for most of the summer because he had been in the US with his wife who had been seriously ill and died last week. Elizabeth Rood, the deputy chief of mission, has been standing in. Rood has been nominated to the next US ambassador to Turkmenistan.

Newsline: Ex-U.S. ambassador and hostage negotiator visits Moscow

Bill Richardson, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and a frequent emissary in hostage negotiations who has worked to secure the releases of WNBA star Brittney Griner and another jailed American, Paul Whelan, visited Moscow this week and held meetings with Russian leaders, a person familiar with the matter said Tuesday night. The visit came as American officials have continued to press Russia to release Griner, who was sentenced last month to nine years in prison in a drug possession case, and Whelan, a Michigan corporate security executive serving a 16-year sentence on espionage-related charges. The U.S. government regards both as wrongfully detained. In in interview with The Associated Press last month, Richardson said he was hopeful about the chances of a two-for-two prisoner swap. In cases like this, Richardson said at the time, “it’s proportional — two-for two.” (https://thegrio.com/2022/09/14/ex-u-s-ambassador-visits-moscow-where-brittney-griner-remains-jailed/) The person who confirmed Richardson’s visit insisted on anonymity to discuss private negotiations. The Richardson Center for Global Engagement, which Richardson founded, issued a statement declining to comment on his visit. CNN was first to report Richardson’s visit. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced in July that the U.S. had made a “substantial proposal” to Russia to facilitate a swap. Though he did not detail the terms, a person familiar the matter said the U.S. had offered to release convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.

Newsline: Top U.S. diplomat casts doubt on ‘Havana syndrome’ claims

A top State Department official, countering claims that have circulated widely among members of Congress and the news media, says in a new interview there is no evidence that any external actors caused the “Havana syndrome” health incidents reported in recent years by over 1,100 U.S. diplomats and spies. The comments by Brian Nichols, assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, are especially striking given they come at a time the CIA and the State Department have begun making arrangements to compensate — with payments of up to $189,000 — current and former U.S. officials suffering from unexplained brain injuries under a law, the HAVANA Act, passed by Congress last year and signed by President Biden. But even as those payments go out, a Yahoo News investigation has found there is mounting skepticism among senior officials about a key underlying premise of the new law: that the symptoms associated with Havana syndrome — which the government formally refers to as Anomalous Health Incidents (AHI) — can be linked in any way to hostile attacks by a foreign power. “We have not identified any outside causality in any Anomalous Health Incidents,” said Nichols in an exclusive interview for a new three-part series for Yahoo News’ “Conspiracyland” podcast, “The Strange Story of Havana Syndrome.” (https://news.yahoo.com/top-us-officials-cast-fresh-doubt-on-sensational-havana-syndrome-claims-090025560.html) The remarks by Nichols — who oversees Cuba policy at the State Department — echo, but in some respects go beyond, recent comments by CIA Director William Burns that the agency has not found any foreign actors, including Russia, to be responsible for a “sustained global campaign on the scale of what has been reported” to harm U.S. officials and that “a majority” of Havana syndrome cases could be attributed to alternative environmental and medical factors.

Newsline: At UK embassy in Washington US President signed condolence book for Queen Elizabeth

Joe Biden has signed a condolence book for Queen Elizabeth at the UK embassy in Washington DC as he called the late monarch “a great lady.” The president and first lady were greeted at the embassy by British Ambassador Dame Karen Pierce and her husband, according to a pool report. Mr Biden asked the ambassador if he could write in the condolence book, and she told him, “if you would like to Sir.” The president then sat at a table where the book sat alongside a photograph of the Queen and a bouquet of flowers. He then spent several minutes writing in the book, as the first lady, Jill Biden, stood next to him. Ms Biden then sat in the chair and added her signature to the president’s message. “We mourn for all of you. She was a great lady, I’m so delighted I got to meet her,” Mr Biden said and he walked over to meet with embassy staff. “Our hearts are with you,” the First Lady told the embassy staff. Mr Biden then thanks the staff and added, “As my mother would say, God, love you.” (https://news.yahoo.com/biden-signs-condolence-book-queen-224627523.html) The president and first lady then held hands as they walked out of the room.