Diplomatic Briefing

Your exclusive news aggregator handpicked daily!

Archive for Syria

Newsline: Syrian Ambassador’s Friend Made a Million Selling Him an Embassy in Romania’s Capital

The Art Deco-style mansion at 47 Paris Street in Bucharest was never going to be cheap. It measures over a thousand square meters, sits in a prime neighborhood favored by diplomats, and was built by legendary Romanian engineer Emil Prager in 1933. But it still raised eyebrows among some in Romania’s capital when the white stone building shot up in value by a million euros in under a week in 2009. Even more unusually, the mansion passed through the hands of a widowed pensioner who lived in a Communist-era public housing block in southwest Bucharest. Leana Pielmus, then 58, bought it on September 10 for 3.5 million euros (the equivalent of US$5 million). The average pension in Romania at the time was 162 euros per month. Pielmus sold it a week later to the Syrian Foreign Ministry for 4.46 million euros (US$6.6 million), according to sales contracts obtained by journalists from OCCRP partners RISE Project and SIRAJ. (https://www.occrp.org/en/investigations/how-a-syrian-ambassadors-friend-made-a-million-selling-him-an-embassy) The deal, which has never been reported in the mainstream media, was brokered by her son-in-law, Ammar Aoun, a dentist who counts the Syrian ambassador to Romania among his friends. Dissidents argue that Bucharest has become a European hub for the illicit financial networks of Assad and his wealthy cousin, Rami Makhlouf, who is married to the daughter of the Syrian ambassador. That ambassador, Walid Othman, is among Assad’s closest associates. He has been at his diplomatic post in Romania for 13 years, despite having blown past the mandatory retirement age of 65. Ambassador Othman and the Syrian Foreign Ministry declined to say whether the deal followed public procurement rules or if the Syrian government investigated the potential conflict of interest. Romania’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the question of how the Syrian Embassy was purchased was outside its purview. But Camelia Bogdan, a Romanian judge with expertise in money laundering, said the transaction raised red flags that should have been reported to authorities. Romania and Syria have had close diplomatic ties since the regime of Nicolae Ceausescu. The former communist dictator had a warm relationship with Assad’s father, Hafez al-Assad, who ruled Syria with an iron grip for nearly three decades. In March 2011, the European Union imposed sanctions on the Syrian strongman and his close associates, which are still in place. Romania is one of a few EU countries that have nevertheless maintained diplomatic relations with the Syrian regime throughout the civil war.

Newsline: Oman becomes first Gulf state to reinstate ambassador in Syria

Oman has sent an ambassador to Syria, becoming the first Gulf Arab state to do so after they downgraded or shut missions in Damascus in 2012 over the government’s brutal response to protests at the start of what turned into a war. (https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/10/5/oman-becomes-first-gulf-state-to-reinstate-ambassador-in-syria) Oman is one of the rare Arab countries that maintained diplomatic relations with the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad after the 2011 uprising, despite pressure from the United States and other Gulf allies. Syria’s foreign minister on Sunday accepted the credentials of Oman’s Ambassador Turki bin Mahmood al-Busaidy, appointed to the post by royal decree in March, state news agency ONA said.

Newsline: Syrian embassy in Lebanon says 43 Syrians killed in Beirut explosion

As many as 43 Syrians were killed in the mega blast that shook the Lebanese capital of Beirut on Tuesday, state news agency SANA reported on Saturday. Citing a statement by the Syrian embassy in Lebanon, the report said the death toll is not final as search for missing people and casualties is ongoing. (http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/2020-08/08/c_139275349.htm) Facilitations have been provided for returning some of the bodies to Syria and bury others in Lebanon, said the embassy, adding that coordination will continue with the Lebanese authorities to search for the missing people. At least 154 people were killed in the massive explosion and more than 6,000 others injured, but numbers are expected to rise as the search for the missing people continues.

Newsline: Chile to shut down its embassies in Greece, Denmark, Algeria, Syria and Romania

The Chilean ambassadors of Greece, Denmark, Algeria, Syria and Romania were informed, that they will have to finish their affairs before the end of the year, 24 Horas reported. The closure of the embassies are occurring in order to provide a greater national presence in Brussels, considered the unofficial capital of the European Union, as well as in Vienna (Austria). (https://greekcitytimes.com/2020/06/08/chile-to-shut-down-its-embassy-in-athens/) The measure was taken by Foreign Minister Teodoro Ribera, after the Strategic Planning Directorate asked to evaluate the political, economic and development relevance of the different nations where Chile has embassies.

Newsline: Libyan government condemns Damascus embassy move

The U.N.-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) on Wednesday denounced Bashar Assad regime’s decision to hand over the Libyan Embassy in Damascus to Khalifa Haftar’s government. In a statement, the GNA’s Foreign Ministry said the handover “violates U.N. Security Council resolution prohibiting dealing with any parallel bodies to the GNA, which is the only legitimate government in the country.” (https://www.dailysabah.com/politics/libyan-govt-condemns-giving-embassy-in-damascus-to-illegal-haftar/news) The Tripoli-seated ministry stressed that the move was “a violation of the sovereignty of the Libyan state.” On Tuesday, the Assad government reopened the Libyan Embassy in Damascus after an eight-year hiatus and handed it over to Haftar’s government. Syria has become the first to officially recognize Haftar’s government, which does not have international recognition.

Newsline: Libya’s eastern government opens Damascus embassy

Libya’s eastern-based government linked to military commander Khalifa Haftar opened an embassy in Syria on Tuesday and called for the two countries to unite in their common fight against Turkey-backed militant groups. (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-syria-libya/libyas-eastern-government-opens-damascus-embassy-pledges-united-fight-against-turkey-idUSKBN20Q1GJ) Syria has faced resistance from Turkish forces allied to rebels in its northeast. Libya has two governments, one based in the capital Tripoli and widely recognized internationally, and another based in the east. Eastern commander Haftar has launched an assault to capture Tripoli, and is fighting forces aligned with the government there which are backed militarily by Turkey. “Terrorism will kill any Arab country if it’s permitted and if the criminal (President Tayyip) Erdogan is permitted to win this fight,” Syria’s deputy foreign minister Faisal Mekdad said at a ceremony to open the embassy. President Bashar al-Assad has looked to shed his country’s pariah status and regain Arab support. The United Arab Emirates, which backs Haftar in Libya, re-opened its Damascus embassy in December 2018 and has forged closer ties after once supporting rebels fighting against Assad. Libya’s diplomatic missions are generally aligned with the government based in Tripoli, but diplomats in some foreign capitals have supported the rival government based in the east.

Newsline: Hungary draws up plans to upgrade diplomatic ties with Syria

Hungary is drawing up plans to upgrade diplomatic relations with Syria, a move that will anger influential EU members who have sought to keep their distance from the Damascus regime. Budapest has for months been working on a proposal to send a chargé d’affaires back to Syria, according to diplomats in Brussels and Beirut, which would be a precursor to reopening its closed embassy eventually. While a few European capitals kept up diplomatic ties during the seven-year conflict, this would be the first time an EU member state has moved towards reopening a shuttered embassy in Syria. (https://www.ft.com/content/837adb10-d3bb-11e9-a0bd-ab8ec6435630) Many EU members strongly oppose normalising relations with the Bashar al-Assad’s authoritarian regime by dispatching envoys to Syria. One European diplomat in Beirut called Hungary’s proposed move “very annoying”.

Newsline: Twitter Suspends Russian Embassy in Syria’s Account

Twitter has suspended the account of Russia’s Embassy in Syria, the Russian Foreign Ministry has confirmed, with fellow Russian embassy accounts saying it was suspended for its “factual” criticism of Syrian rescue workers. Syrian rebel commanders and rights groups said Monday that Russia and its Syrian ally jets killed four civilians and wounded scores in a raid on a marketplace in Maarat al-Numan city. The Russian Embassy in Damascus posted the Russian military’s dismissal of the claims and accusations that rescue workers from Syria’s White Helmets “mak[e] fakes and work with terrorists.” Twitter has suspended the Russian Embassy in Syria’s account for violating the site’s rules, according to a message on the embassy’s now-hidden profile. (https://www.themoscowtimes.com/2019/07/31/twitter-bans-russian-embassy-in-syria-account-colleagues-blame-syrian-rescuers-a66648) The Russian Foreign Ministry tweeted Wednesday that it considers Twitter’s move an “act of censorship and flagrant violation of freedom of speech.” It said Twitter blocked the Russian Embassy in Syria’s account “without any explanation” and urged the social media platform to “immediately unblock @RusEmbSyria.” Twitter did not specify which of its rules was violated.

Newsline: Syrian dissident claims he was attacked at country’s Istanbul consulate

A prominent Syrian opposition figure who once served as a spokesman for a military negotiation committee of the opposition, says he was “attacked” at the Syrian Consulate in Istanbul. (https://www.dailysabah.com/istanbul/2019/07/10/syrian-dissident-claims-he-was-attacked-at-countrys-istanbul-consulate) Osama Abo Zayd was at the consulate for the legal registration of his marriage in Istanbul. He said he had to “pay” $300 for an appointment at the consulate and was mistreated when he arrived. “A clerk saw a wristband symbolizing the Syrian revolution on my wrist and told me he would not process my application if I didn’t remove it,” Zayd told Anadolu Agency (AA), referring to the opposition movement against the Bashar Assad regime. “Then, officials there hurled insults at me and tried to remove me from the consulate. “They intimidated me and tried to hit me. Security officers came and forced me out of the building,” Zayd said. The dissident said he has filed a lawsuit against the consulate clerks. “Turkey’s relations with the regime are bad, but it still did not shut down the consulate so that it can help the Syrian people. Instead, people coming here are subject to insults,” Zayd complained. He said the consulate has to serve all Syrian citizens, regardless of their views, under international laws.

Newsline: Saudi’s top diplomat says ‘too early’ to reopen Syria embassy

Saudi Arabia has ruled out reopening the kingdom’s embassy in Syria, saying it is “too early” to restore diplomatic ties with President Bashar al-Assad’s government. The comments were made on Mar. 4 by Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir, who also said Saudi authorities would not take part in any reconstruction efforts in Syria without progress on a political process to end the country’s eight-year-old war. (https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/03/saudi-foreign-minister-early-reopen-syria-embassy-190304184023059.html) “The kingdom has always been keen on the integrity of the Syrian territory and the political solution,” al-Jubeir told a joint press conference with Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov in the Saudi capital, Riyadh.