Entries in State Department (48)


State Department Shuts Down Embassy in Central African Republic

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The State Department announced on Thursday it temporarily closed the U.S. Embassy in the capital of Bangui, in the Central African Republic.  

According to a statement by State Department Spokesperson Patrick Ventrell, "The U.S. Embassy in Bangui temporarily suspended its operations on December 28 as a result of the present security situation in the Central African Republic (CAR).  We have not suspended diplomatic relations with the Central African Republic."

Ambassador Wohlers and all staff have left the country, and the State Department is warning American citizens not to travel to the country due to violence in the capital city.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


State Department Comments on Syrian Military Police Chief’s Defection

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The State Department addressed the reports of the assumed defection of Syrian Military Police Chief, Major General Abdul Aziz Jassem al-Shallal, on Wednesday.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson Patrick Ventrell said, “We are aware of reports that the Syrian Military Police Chief, Major General Abdul Aziz Jassem al-Shallal, has defected, but we are not in a position to confirm his actions or whereabouts.  If true, this would be yet another sign of the regime crumbling from within, as those around Assad realize that the end of his rule is inevitable.”

Ventrell added, “We continue to encourage regime officials and forces to reject the horrific actions of the Asad regime. Syrian officials should stand with the Syrian people.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


State Department 'Strongly Objects' to Iraq's Release of Hezbollah Leader

WATHIQ KHUZAIE/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- State Department Spokesperson Victoria Nuland said Friday that the United States “strongly objects” to Iraq’s decision to release Hezbollah operative Ali Mussa Daqduq. Her remarks followed Senator McCain’s earlier comments, calling the action an “outrage,” and questioning whether the United States needs to rethink its alliance with Iraq.

U.S. officials believe Daqduq played a role in a 2007 kidnapping which resulted in the death of five soldiers. He was under U.S. custody until December of last year, when Iraq refused to extradite him, but gave assurances that he would remain in prison.  Nuland was uncharacteristically blunt about the nature of the conversation between U.S. and Iraqi officials over his release.

“We didn't want it to happen, and we were concerned about it. We said that to the Iraqis. They have said back to us that they didn't have a legal basis to continue to hold him,” she said.

She also had a warning for Daqduq, who is now believed to be heading to Lebanon.

“Let me add to that that as with other terrorists who we believe have committed crimes against Americans, we are going to continue to pursue all legal means to see that Daqduq sees justice for the crimes of which he is accused,” she said refusing to characterize exactly what those “legal means” would entail.

She also did not confirm or deny that the United States would take some type of retaliatory action against Iraq, a country America has spent billions of dollars rebuilding following the fall of Saddam Hussein, for the decision. However, Nuland maintained that despite the administration’s “deep dissatisfaction” with the Daqduq situation, the long-term relationship between the United States and Iraq remains stable.

“There are many, many things that we work together with the Iraqis on, both in terms of the internal situation in Iraq as well as our regional work together, not least being Syria and our efforts to ensure that Iraqi air and land space is not abused to arm the Syrians. There are many things that we work together on. But as I said, you know, we objected very strongly to this particular decision, and we've made that clear to the Iraqis.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


US Clarifies Stance on Israel/Hamas Conflict, Egypt’s Role

MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland reiterated at Friday’s briefing the United States' position that Israel has the right to defend itself, but that the U.S. also wants to see an end to Mideast violence as soon as possible.

Nuland also stated that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called Egypt’s Foreign Minister for the second  time this week, in response to the Egyptian Prime Minister’s visit to Gaza Friday.

“Prime Minister Kandil was in Gaza today, so it was an opportunity to get an update on that visit and to get a sense from the Egyptians, in the wake of the visit, what further steps any of us can take to help a de-escalation,” said Nuland.

But the prime minister and the Egyptian government have publicly said the visit was to show Egypt’s solidarity with Hamas, a U.S. designated terrorist organization. Kandil said Friday that the world should take action against Israel, characterizing the country as the “aggressors” in the conflict.

Despite the fact that Egypt’s rhetoric reflects the exact opposite opinion of the United States, Nuland insisted that all the parties are on the same page.

“I don't think anybody's happy with the current situation and the loss of innocent life on both sides. So it's a matter of the international community and particularly regional states with influence to do what they can to make clear to Hamas that this is not benefiting the cause of the Palestinian people, and it's certainly not benefiting the cause of regional stability,” said Nuland.

Nuland said that despite his fiery rhetoric, the United States views the prime minister’s visit to Gaza as being positive, and that Egypt continues to play a key role in being able to influence Hamas in order to keep the conflict from growing.

“We are encouraging Egypt to use its influence on Hamas. Egypt made the decision that it would be helpful to send the prime minister to see what he could do. We've been in contact with them before. We've been in contact with them afterwards,” said Nuland who added, “That does not in any way indicate that we endorse the public statements that were made in the context of that visit.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Email Alerts Describe Benghazi Consulate Assault Unfolding

John Foxx/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- A series of email alerts sent as Obama administration officials monitored the attack on the U.S consulate in Benghazi last month are the latest to shine light on the chaotic events that culminated in the death of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.

The names of the individual recipients of the emails, first reported by CBS News but independently obtained by ABC News Tuesday evening, are redacted. A source who requested anonymity said it appears they are sent by the State Department Operations Center to distribution lists and email accounts for the top national security officials at the State Department, Pentagon, the FBI, the White House Situation Room and the office of the Director of National Intelligence.

The first email, with a subject line of “U.S. Diplomatic Mission in Benghazi Under Attack,” sent at 4:05 p.m., about 25 minutes after the attack began, describes an assault on the compound by 20 armed people.

“The Regional Security Officer reports the diplomatic mission is under attack,” the email states. “Embassy Tripoli reports approximately 20 armed people fired shots; explosions have been heard as well.”

“Ambassador Stevens, who is currently in Benghazi, and four COM (Chief of Mission) personnel are in the compound safe haven,” the email continues. “The 17th of February militia is providing security support.”

The next email sent at 4:54 p.m. states that the shooting has stopped and the compound was cleared, adding that a response team was “onsite attempting to locate COM personnel.”

The third email updates officials that Ansar al-Sharia claimed responsibility for the Benghazi attack on Facebook and Twitter, and has threatened to attack the Tripoli embassy.

The timing of the emails is consistent with what a senior State Department official told reporters at a briefing on Oct. 9.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Secretary of State Clinton Condemns Attack on Pakistani Girl

State Department(WASHINGTON) -- Secretary Clinton spoke in front of a group of Girl Scouts Wednesday to talk about the State Department’s efforts to fight child marriage. But first she honored 14-year-old Malala Yousufzain, calling the Pakistani teenager brave, and highlighting her campaign for girls’ education in her country.
Clinton condemned her shooting, saying her attackers were “threatened” by her. “She was attacked and shot by extremists who don't want girls to have an education and don't want girls to speak for themselves and don't want girls to become leaders,” said Clinton.
The secretary told the crowd of young women that though Malala was in critical condition, they should continue her fight for the rights of girls world-wide.
“We should be dedicating our efforts to brave young women, some of whose names we will know and some we will never know,” she said.  “Who struggle against tradition and culture and even outright hostility and sometimes violence to pursue their hopes, their God-given potential, to have a life of meaning and purpose and make contributions to their families, their communities, their countries and the world.”
The secretary said Malala’s plight is a reminder of the dangers that simply being female continue to pose in many parts of the world.

“Yesterday's attack reminds of the challenges that girls face, whether it's poverty or marginalization or even violence, just for speaking out for their basic rights.”

Secretary Clinton, along with South African apartheid and human rights activist Arch Bishop Desmond Tutu, launched the “Girls Brides” campaign, which is striving to end child marriage globally by 2030.  The State Department estimates that there are currently 10 million girls across the world who are forced into child marriage.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Benghazi Attack: Security Officer on State Department Blocking Requests

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call(WASHINGTON) -- In a heated and dramatic congressional hearing Wednesday, witnesses who served with the U.S. diplomatic corps in Libya and pushed for a stronger security presence repeatedly faulted the State Department for standing in their way – one even referring to the State Department officials he described as obstructionist as if they were Taliban terrorists.
Eric Nordstrom, a former regional security officer in Libya, recalled talking to a regional director and asking for twelve security agents.
“His response to that was, ‘You are asking for the sun, moon and the stars.’ And my response to him - his name was Jim – ‘Jim, you know what makes most frustrating about this assignment? It is not the hardships, it is not the gunfire, it is not the threats. It is dealing and fighting against the people, programs and personnel who are supposed to be supporting me. And I added (sic) it by saying, ‘For me the Taliban is on the inside of the building.’”
Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Wood, the commander of a Security Support Team (SST) sent home in August – against his wishes and, he says, the wishes of the late Ambassador Chris Stevens – said “we were fighting a losing battle. We couldn’t even keep what we had.”
Nordstrom agreed, saying, “it was abundantly clear we were not going to get resources until the aftermath of an incident. And the question that we would ask is again, ‘How thin does the ice need to get until someone falls through?’”
As an example, earlier Nordstrom had said he was “specifically told, ‘You can’t request an SST extension. How I interpreted that was there was going to be too much political cost.”
But in another emotional moment, Undersecretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy denied that politics played any role.
“I have been a career foreign service officer for 39 years,” Kennedy said when asked if political considerations trumped protocol. “I have served every president since Richard Nixon, I have directly served six secretaries of State, Democratic and Republican. On my honor: no. None.”
Wood said that when he heard of the attack on the Benghazi post on September 11, it was "instantly recognizable" that it had been a terrorist attack.
“Mainly because of my prior knowledge there,” Wood said. “I almost expected the attack to come. We were the last flag flying. It was a matter of time.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


State Department's Religious Freedom Report Indicates Back Sliding

FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Declaring that religious freedom is an essential component of democracy, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared on Monday that the world seems to be regressing in allowing people to worship as they choose.

Unveiling the 2011 State Department International Religious Freedom Report, Clinton said, "Members of faith communities that have long been under pressure report that pressure is rising.  When it comes to this human right...the world is sliding backwards."

Among the worst offenders is China, cited by the State Department for slapping more restrictions on Tibetan Buddhist monks, Muslims and other religious groups not affiliated with Beijing's official state-sanctioned "patriotic religious associations."

The report also called out North Korea, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan and Burma, also known as Myanmar, which has just begun to reestablish relations with the U.S. after more than half-a-century.

In countries that have undergone democratic revolutions over the past year, Clinton pointed out that religious freedom remains tenuous in Egypt as sectarian violence has increased against Coptic Christians although the secretary said she received assurances from Egypt's new Muslim president that his administration would be inclusive of all faiths.

There has been some progress as well in Libya as its new leaders said they would no longer abide by laws enforced by the late Col. Moammar Gadhafi, who restricted religious freedom, choosing instead to allow freedom of religion.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


US State Dept. Concerned About Massacre in Syria's Commercial Capital

JOSEPH EID/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- With Syrian government forces preparing for what looks like a large attack on Aleppo, the country's commercial capital, U.S. State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said Thursday that the U.S. is concerned that there could be a massacre in that city.  

“This is the concern, that we will see a massacre in Aleppo, and that's what the regime appears to be lining up for,” Nuland said, adding that the U.S. hopes to prevent a potential attack in Aleppo by increasing pressure on the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and calling them out on the matter.
Nuland explained that she chose to use the word "massacre" out of concern about, “the columns of tanks outside the city, that they seem to be massing for an attack ... the fact that you now have not only helicopter gunships but fixed-wing aircraft, which is a serious escalation in this conflict, the kind of artillery, et cetera, that we're seeing.”
But what can the U.S. do outside of the United Nations to prevent a massacre? Nuland spoke vaguely about the U.S., “working with the opposition to try to strengthen them.”

“This is a horrific situation,” she said. “This is abhorrent, what this regime is willing to do against its own people. We have to call it out. We have to do what we can to strengthen the opposition for the day after.”    

The "day after" is the new language that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been using for a political transition in a post-Assad Syria.

Likewise, Nuland repeated Clinton’s cautions from earlier this week to the Syrian opposition that they not carry out a policy of retribution once Assad’s gone.
But ultimately, she said the Assad regime, “will stop at nothing to hold on to power, and it is an extremely dangerous situation."  Nuland said the regime has ignored opportunities to stop the violence and “turn the page.”

"Instead, they've responded with bombardments and fixed-wing aircraft, helicopter gunships, artillery in the city and now this massing outside of one of the most historic and beautiful cities in that part of the world,” said Nuland.
“It is a desperate situation, and we are continuing to do all we can in the international community to put the pressure on,” she said.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Latest Human Trafficking Report Cites Syria as Major Offender

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Twenty-seven million people worldwide are the victims of human trafficking, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced Tuesday in her department's annual Trafficking in Persons report.

Seventeen countries in particular were cited for doing little to stop the illegal trade of men, women and children, and the latest country to join the offenders is Syria, according to the State Department.

Already facing sanctions because of its violent crackdown on political opponents of President Bashar al-Assad, Damascus could find itself in an even deeper hole with the world community for failing to stem the trafficking of women into its country for the purpose of forced labor and sex trade.

These unwilling victims come from Indonesia, the Philippines and Somalia, the State Department says.

Meanwhile, Syria is also accused of enslaving many Iraqi refugees who have come to its country to escape the aftermath of the eight-year-long war.

While the news is bad for Syria and other offenders, the Trafficking in Persons report said the number of countries facing U.S. sanctions is down from 23 last year.  Two governments now off the list are Myanmar, which has just reestablished relations with the U.S., and Venezuela.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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