Entries in Diplomats (8)


Syria Boots Western Diplomats in Retaliation for Its Expelled Envoys

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(DAMASCUS, Syria) -- A week after the U.S. and its allies expelled Syrian envoys due to the ongoing conflict in their country, Damascus announced on Tuesday that it was booting out 17 diplomats from the U.S. and other Western countries.

The government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said members of the following countries were "personae non gratae": Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, the U.K. and the U.S.

For good measure, al-Assad also ordered the entire Turkish mission in Damascus to get out of the capital.  As it happened, most of those told to leave were already long gone for safety reasons.

Washington and several Western states had decided to expel Syrian envoys following the massacre in Houla in late May that left more than 100 civilians dead.

Tuesday's decision by Syria was a further sign that al-Assad will depend more heavily on Moscow and Beijing to repel punitive action by the United Nations as the government crackdown on dissidents enters its 16th month with little chance of the violence responsible for 13,000 deaths ending anytime soon.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Syrian Diplomats Expelled in Coordinated Protest of Houla Slayings

Sasha Mordovets/Getty Images(LONDON) -- In a coordinated move, a number of western countries have started to expel senior Syrian diplomats from their countries.

“We have again called the Syrian Charge in London here to the Foreign Office,” said U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague. “He has been given seven days to leave the country. Other Syrian diplomats, two other diplomats, will be expelled at the same time.”

And it was a similar story in places like Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the United States. The action comes in response to the massacre in the Syrian city of Houla of more than 100 civilians.

“A fairly small number appear to have been killed by shelling - artillery and tank fire which took place over a period of more than twelve hours,” said Rupert Colville of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights. “But the majority appear to have been the result of house-to-house summary executions of armed men going into houses and killing men, women and children inside.”

The expulsions come amid increasing diplomatic efforts aimed at ending the bloodshed in Syria, and putting more pressure on President Bashar Assad.

It's also been announced that Paris will host a meeting in early July of the “Friends of Syria" in hopes of finding a solution to the conflict.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


US to Cut Back on Diplomatic Personnel in Iraq

Antenna Audio, Inc./Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- While the American military presence in Iraq is now barely existent, there are still plenty of diplomats and other personnel in the country.  But perhaps, not for long.

There are reports that the State Department is ready to cut its diplomatic corps in half as well as the number of contractors operating in Iraq.

Presently, there are 2,000 State Department personnel working in the U.S. Embassy, the largest such mission in the world.  Meanwhile, it's estimated that 16,000 other personnel, including contractors, are in the country.

The U.S. wants to maintain some influence in Iraq after almost nine years of a military occupation, but it's become clearer that the ruling Shiite government wants as little interference as possible from foreign diplomats.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


US Embassy in Syria Closed, Diplomats Evacuated

AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The United States has whisked its remaining diplomats out of Syria and suspended operations at its embassy in Damascus as violence there continues to increase, U.S. officials told ABC News.

The skeletal staff, including Ambassador Robert Ford, departed quietly despite being denied exit visas by Syrian authorities in some cases, officials said.

The embassy had already pared down its staff over the past several months amid concerns about their security.  After the latest round of reductions in January, a core group of 17 staff members remained in the country. Some departed overland to Jordan while others flew out of the airport in the capital.

The shuttering of the embassy follows similar steps by other Western countries in recent weeks. A U.S. official said that talks are ongoing with Poland to serve as the American protecting power in Syria while the U.S. embassy is closed.

Monday's move comes after the Obama administration says its requests to Syrian authorities for increased security around the American embassy and its diplomats fell on deaf ears.  The embassy is situated on a busy intersection in Damascus and officials say they feared al Qaeda elements, which are believed to be behind a string of car bombs in the Syrian capital, could target Americans next. They also requested that the street the embassy is on be closed, but nothing was done.

The embassy had already been targeted by a pro-Assad mob last July after Ambassador Ford defied restrictions on his travel outside the capital and visited the restive city of Hama. Some in the crowd scaled the outer walls of the embassy and defaced the exterior, including the American flag, before being chased away by embassy guards.

The U.S. embassy, like other diplomatic facilities there, is guarded by Syrian security forces. U.S. officials say they were slow to respond and accused the government of sponsoring the protest.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


US Diplomats Return to Tripoli Saturday

US State Department(WASHINGTON) -- A handful of diplomats, led by the embassy’s No. 2 official Joan Polaschik, return to Tripoli Saturday for the first time since the embassy was ransacked, burned and shuttered last February to prepare for the  its eventual reopening, the State Department said Friday.

"She’ll have a couple of policy people with her and some more security folks and building folks, to work on getting the premises ready for the reopening as soon as we can,” State Department  spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters.

“The policy team will also enable us to have a direct diplomatic contact with Mr. Tarhouni and other members of the TNC and members of the international community and the U.N. who are now working in Tripoli,” she said, referring to the local head of the Libyan opposition group that ousted longtime leader Moammar Gadhafi from power.

U.S. officials told ABC News that the embassy would  likely reopen in a couple weeks. The group arriving Saturday will likely work out of temporary offices.

Those working at the embassy at the time of the attack were chased off by an AK-47 wielding mob that overran the compound. ABC News’ Jeffrey Kofman obtained exclusive cell phone footage of that day, which shows plumes of black smoke rising from the embassy. A video uploaded to YouTube in early June, which appears to have been shot inside the compound, shows burned-out buildings and destroyed furniture.

The State Department dispatched a small “technical team” to Tripoli last weekend to assess the damage and the security situation in the capital. It found structural damage to some of the embassy buildings and reported that the chancery and the ambassador’s residence were both trashed and burned.

The U.S. ambassador to Libya, Gene Cretz, is not returning to the country just yet but is expected to be back for the embassy’s reopening.

“We have no place for him to work. We have no appropriate connectivity to Washington. We have no -- you know, a limited number of cars and all that kind of stuff that he needs to work. We have to reconstitute our Libyan staff who has loyally managed a lot of our property and assets in Libya. So we just -- we need some time,” Nuland explained.

She also said that Chris Stevens, the American diplomat who was the primary contact with the rebels based in their stronghold of Benghazi, will remain there for the time being.

“For the coming period, we’re going to maintain the presence in Benghazi, because there are also important players in Benghazi,” said Nuland.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Syria and the US Place Restrictions on Each Others' Diplomats

U.S. Department of State(WASHINGTON) -- Travel restrictions for Syrian and American diplomats had been rumored before, but the Syrian ambassador and the State Department confirmed it Wednesday.
Following U.S. Ambassador to Damascus Robert Ford’s trip to the restive city of Hama, the Syrian regime placed restrictions on his and all American diplomats’ travel outside of the capital. In order to leave they would need the consent of the government. That permission is unlikely given the current environment as the regime launches all-out attacks on a number of cities.
The State Department took reciprocal action, as is common in these cases, restricting Syrian diplomats’ travel to the immediate area around Washington, D.C.
“The Syrian Embassy must submit a Travel Approval Form to the Department at least seven days prior to the intended date of departure, not including the day the proposed travel is scheduled to take place, or weekends, and federal holidays,” the State Department confirmed in a statement Wednesday.
Ambassador Ford had been planning to travel to Deir el Zour, another restive Syrian city, but was unable to do so. Last week the regime began its siege on the city.
The State Department has voiced its concern about the actions of the Syrian embassy since the uprising began. Earlier this year they accused some embassy staff of intimidating Syrian-Americans who were protesting here, and also of going after their families back in Syria.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Syria Wants to Restrict Diplomats' Movements After US Envoy's Trip

Ambassador Robert Ford (US State Dept)(DAMASCUS) -- Syria declared Wednesday that foreign diplomats must seek approval to travel outside Damascus. The move comes after the U.S. and French ambassadors traveled to the restive city of Hama ahead of major planned protests.
The U.S. and French envoys were greeted in Hama on July 8 by citizens who placed roses and olive branches on the car, but when they got back to the capital, supposedly government-orchestrated demonstrations were held outside the embassies, culminating last Monday when protestors stormed the gates and stole the American flag.
On Wednesday, the State Department insisted its diplomats need to see what is happening in the country.
“These are not the acts of a government that has nothing to hide,” State Department spokeswoman Heide Bronke Fulton said. “Given that the Syrian government refuses to allow international media, aid workers and human rights personnel, diplomats have to be able to travel throughout the country to monitor the situation on the ground.”
It’s worth pointing out, as the State Department has in the past, that the Syrian ambassador in Washington is allowed to freely travel around the country and does so frequently to advocate for the Syrian regime.
A source tells ABC News that U.S. Ambassador Robert Ford has plans to travel again this week, but there’s no word yet on when he’ll go. An opposition group suggested last week that he would visit Deir Ezzor in the East last Friday, but it didn’t happen.
When Ford visited Hama two weeks ago his embassy only notified the Ministry of Defense, ostensibly because they control the checkpoints along the way, but notably didn’t tell the Foreign Ministry in advance, which likely would have told him not to go.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Serbian Fugitive May Testify Against Diplomats Who Helped Him Flee U.S.

Photo Courtesy -- Interpol(BELGRADE, Serbia) -- A Serbian man who fled to his home country after beating a New York college student into a coma pleaded guilty to the crime Monday, and his lawyer left open the possibility that he could testify against Serb diplomats who helped him escape from the U.S.  "I am guilty," Miladin Kovacevic told Judge Ivana Ramic in a hearing today in a Belgrade court room.  The hearing was scheduled for a time after Kovacevic passed an exam at the law school he is attending.  Kovacevic initially faced a possible eight years in jail, but under a deal, he will receive a two-year sentence.  He was charged with inflicting "severe bodily harm with possible deadly consequences."  Two additional charges will be dismissed.  Kovacevic's lawyer, Borivoje Borovic, did not rule out that Kovacevic could testify against Serb diplomats who have been charged with abusing their positions when they hastily issued travel documents to Kovacevic after the assault.  Two former Serbian diplomats, Slobodan Nenadovic and Igor Milosevic, pleaded not guilty on Sept. 16 to charges of abusing their positions. They are scheduled to go on trial Oct. 18.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

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