There are over 24,000 diplomats working for @StateDept?

Posted: 5:24 pm EDT

 

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“There are over 24,000 diplomats working for the State Department in the U.S. and around the world. Of that number some are diplomats and some are civil servants serving mostly domestically.”

— Ambassador Nancy McEldowney, director of the Foreign Service Institute. As the Chief Learning Officer for the U.S. government’s foreign affairs community, she is focused on preparing America’s diplomats for the challenges of tomorrow. Born and raised in Clearwater Florida, her State Department career has taken her to Egypt, Germany, Azerbaijan, Turkey and Bulgaria. (Via Parade).

Note: The Parade article was updated sometime after January 24 to say, “There are over 24,000 Americans working for the State Department in the U.S. and around the world.”  The Wayback Machine dated January 24 has the original line that says, “There are over 24,000 diplomats working for the State Department in the U.S. and around the world.”

 

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US Embassy Beirut: A Form Letter Response, Please, That’s Cold

Posted: 2:50 am EDT

 

The US Embassy in Damascus, Syria suspended its operations on February 6, 2012, and is not open for normal consular services.  The Travel Warning for Syria was last updated on August 27, 2015. Yes, these folks should have left Syria when it was still a possibility, but they probably knew that already, and blaming them now is not going to help. For folks interested in learning what the U.S. Government can and cannot do in a crisis overseas, please click here.

Look, we understand that there is not much that the USG can do in terms of consular services in an active war zone.  But. While it may not be much, forwarding the inquiry in this case to the U.S. Interests Section of the Embassy of the Czech Republic in Damascus might have, at a minimum, alerted the Section of this family’s existence.  Two, when one is in a life and death situation, receiving a form letter from the U.S. government is probably one of the coldest manifestation of the bureaucracy.

The Government of the Czech Republic serves as the protecting power for U.S. interests in Syria. U.S. citizens in Syria who seek consular services should contact the U.S. Interests Section of the Embassy of the Czech Republic in Damascus at USIS_damascus@embassy.mzv.cz. U.S. citizens in Syria who are in need of emergency assistance in Syria and are unable to reach the U.S. Interests Section of the Embassy of the Czech Republic or must make contact outside business hours, should contact the U.S. Embassy in Amman, Jordan: AmmanACS@state.gov; +(962) (6) 590-6500.

 

Related items:

 

 

 

US Implements Visa Waiver Restrictions For Dual Nationals From Iran, Iraq, Sudan, and Syria

Posted: 6:09 pm EDT

 

The ‘‘Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2016’’ which became Public Law No: 114-113 on December 18, 2015 includes a provision for “terrorist travel prevention and visa waiver program” officially called the ‘‘Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015’’.  The new law which affects dual nationals from WVP countries and Iran, Iraq, Sudan and Syria includes a waiver to be be exercised by the DHS secretary.  The new law also requires the Secretary of Homeland Security to submit to the Committee on Homeland Security, the Committee on Foreign Affairs, the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and the Committee on the Judiciary of the House of Representatives, and the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, the Committee on Foreign Relations, the Select Committee on Intelligence, and the Committee on the Judiciary of the Senate a report on each instance in which the Secretary exercised the waiver authority during the previous year.

On January 21, the State Department announced the implementation of the changes to the Visa Waiver Program. Below is the announcement:

The United States today began implementing changes under the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015 (the Act). U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) welcomes more than a million passengers arriving to the United States every day and is committed to facilitating legitimate travel while maintaining the highest standards of security and border protection. Under the Act, travelers in the following categories are no longer eligible to travel or be admitted to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP):

  • Nationals of VWP countries who have traveled to or been present in Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria on or after March 1, 2011 (with limited exceptions for travel for diplomatic or military purposes in the service of a VWP country).
  • Nationals of VWP countries who are also nationals of Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria.

These individuals will still be able to apply for a visa using the regular immigration process at our embassies or consulates. For those who need a U.S. visa for urgent business, medical, or humanitarian travel to the United States, U.S. embassies and consulates stand ready to process applications on an expedited basis.

Beginning January 21, 2016, travelers who currently have valid Electronic System for Travel Authorizations (ESTAs) and who have previously indicated holding dual nationality with one of the four countries listed above on their ESTA applications will have their current ESTAs revoked.

Under the new law, the Secretary of Homeland Security may waive these restrictions if he determines that such a waiver is in the law enforcement or national security interests of the United States. Such waivers will be granted only on a case-by-case basis. As a general matter, categories of travelers who may be eligible for a waiver include:

  • Individuals who traveled to Iran, Iraq, Sudan or Syria on behalf of international organizations, regional organizations, and sub-national governments on official duty;
  • Individuals who traveled to Iran, Iraq, Sudan or Syria on behalf of a humanitarian NGO on official duty;
  • Individuals who traveled to Iran, Iraq, Sudan or Syria as a journalist for reporting purposes;
  • Individuals who traveled to Iran for legitimate business-related purposes following the conclusion of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (July 14, 2015); and
  • Individuals who have traveled to Iraq for legitimate business-related purposes.

Again, whether ESTA applicants will receive a waiver will be determined on a case-by-case basis, consistent with the terms of the law. In addition, we will continue to explore whether and how the waivers can be used for dual nationals of Iraq, Syria, Iran and Sudan.

Any traveler who receives notification that they are no longer eligible to travel under the VWP are still eligible to travel to the United States with a valid nonimmigrant visa issued by a U.S. embassy or consulate. Such travelers will be required to appear for an interview and obtain a visa in their passports at a U.S. embassy or consulate before traveling to the United States.

The new law does not ban travel to the United States, or admission into the United States, and the great majority of VWP travelers will not be affected by the legislation.

An updated ESTA application with additional questions is scheduled to be released in late February 2016 to address exceptions for diplomatic- and military-related travel provided for in the Act.

Information on visa applications can be found at travel.state.gov.

Current ESTA holders are encouraged to check their ESTA status prior to travel on CBP’s website at esta.cbp.dhs.gov.

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Can private lawyers hoard potentially classified information? Yes. No, It Depends. Wait, No?

Posted: 2:30 am EDT

 

Related to Brown v. State Department: Another Day, Another FOIA Lawsuit, David Brown wanted to know “If it is now policy to allow private lawyers to hoard potentially classified information, the public is entitled to know the authority by which such policies are maintained, and who is permitted such generous treatment.”  

The Daily Beast last week reported that Clinton’s private lawyer got his way when he pushed back after being asked to delete all copies of a classified email—a level of deference an expert calls ‘far from the norm.’  State Department employees were also reportedly told “to develop a system that would let Kendall keep the emails in a State Department-provided safe at his law firm in Washington, D.C., where he and a partner had access to them” according to the Daily Beast.

Newly released documents, obtained by The Daily Beast in coordination with the James Madison Project under the Freedom of Information Act, include legal correspondence and internal State Department communications about Clinton’s emails. Those documents provide new details about how officials tried to accommodate the former secretary of state and presidential candidate.
[…]
“The arrangement with Kendall was far from the norm,” Steven Aftergood, an expert on classification and security policy at the Federation of American Scientists, told The Daily Beast. “There are a number of attorneys around who handle clients and cases involving classified information. They are almost never allowed to retain classified material in their office, whether they have a safe or not. Sometimes they are not even allowed to review the classified information, even if they are cleared for it, because an agency will say they don’t have a ‘need to know.’ In any event, the deference shown to Mr. Kendall by the State Department was quite unusual.”
[…]
While State Department officials initially may have felt that non-government lawyers were qualified to maintain classified emails at their office, they changed their tune as investigators began to discover more top secret information among Clinton’s communications.
[…]
The arrangement with Kendall has been previously reported. But the documents reveal new details about what was happening inside the State Department as officials moved ahead with the unorthodox setup.

 

Related item:

12 FAM 530 STORING AND SAFEGUARDING CLASSIFIED MATERIAL-June 25, 2015, pdf).

 

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When You’re Out of the Loop, Don’t Forget That Secrecy Is the Soul of Diplomacy

Posted: 1:26 am EDT

 

As the media reported on the Iran prisoner swap this weekend, HuffPo’s Ryan Grim wrote Here’s Why We Held The Story On The U.S.-Iranian Prisoner Exchange, on January 16. It deserves a good reading because there’s a lesson here somewhere:

One of the four men was Jason Rezaian, a Washington Post reporter who had covered the Iran nuclear talks. Rezaian was being held on baseless charges of espionage in order to try to extract concessions from the Americans. Our source, State’s Chase Foster, was upset that the U.S. had failed to secure the Americans’ release as part of the nuclear deal, and it was his understanding that the talks had since collapsed. But as we reported out the tip, we discovered that, unbeknownst to Foster, the talks had never really stopped.
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What added an extra wrinkle to this ethical dilemma was the State Department official, Foster, Schulberg’s on-the-record source. To describe such a situation as unusual wouldn’t do it justice: State Department officials with specific knowledge of prisoner negotiations don’t talk publicly about them. It just doesn’t happen. Yet to Schulberg’s credit as a reporter, Foster was doing so in this case. His frustration motivated him to speak out — and, eventually, to quit his job, which he did late last year.

Any public official willing to air grievances on the record, whether those grievances are legitimate or not, should be thought of as a whistleblower. And if a whistleblower is willing to risk his career and reputation to share information he thinks the public needs to have, a news outlet needs to have an awfully good reason not to run his story. On the other hand, we never asked him not to talk to other outlets or to take his concerns public on his own, which was always an option, but one he didn’t take. And had he known the talks were once again going on, that may have changed his calculus about going public, which in turn was something we had to keep in mind. And it wasn’t something we could share with him.
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When we reached out to the administration, the frontline press folks there were extremely aggressive and served up a bunch of garbage we later confirmed to be garbage. But when we approached administration officials higher up the chain, they told us what was actually happening. They told us that reporters for The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal were withholding details of the talks as well, though neither knew of Foster, whose identity we never revealed to the government. They did not put hard pressure on us to hold our story, but instead calmly laid out their analysis of the possible consequences of publishing, and offered confidence that the talks were moving forward and headed toward a resolution.

Read in full here. After reading that, you might also want to read The New Yorker’s Prisoner Swap: Obama’s Secret Second Channel to Iran by . She writes in part:

More than a year of informal discussions between Sherman and her counterpart, Majid Takht Ravanchi, the Iranian Foreign Ministry official in charge of American and European affairs, led to an agreement, in late 2014, that the issue should be handled separately—but officially—through a second channel. After debate within the Administration, Obama approved the initiative. But it was so tightly held that most of the American team engaged in tortuous negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program were not told about it.[…] Brett McGurk, a senior State Department official, headed the small American team, which also included officials from the Department of Justice, the F.B.I., and the intelligence community.

According to NYT, Mr. McGurk’s team sat down with their Iranian counterparts in Geneva for the first time in November 2014, according to an account by several American officials on the condition of anonymity.

HuffPo’s source Chase Foster, a Foreign Affairs officer at the State Department since 2012, was reportedly upset that the U.S. had failed to secure the Americans’ release as part of the nuclear deal according to the Huffington Post.  FAOs are civil service positions at the State Department that typically requires regional or functional expertise.  His LinkedIn profile says that he had an advanced degree in Professional Studies in Persian and speaks Persian. It does not say which bureau he works in.  But by the time he quit the State Department in frustration late last year, the negotiations for the prisoners release has been going on for about 13 months.

Foster was willing to risk his career by speaking on the record. That’s not something we often see these days. His heart was in the the right place, and we won’t blame him for it.  But he may have also forgotten what François de Callières said about secrecy as being “the very soul of diplomacy.”  

If mentorship works at State as it should have, somebody could have counseled him quietly that absence of apparent action does not mean lack of action.  The American team working the nuke negotiations was not even told about the second channel secret negotiations. We would not be surprise if the top honchos at the NEA bureau with decades of USG service were also out of the loop. And no one has even mentioned James O’Brien, the newly appointed Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs.

This could have easily gone the other way. We’re glad that it didn’t, that senior administration officials did not dish more garbage, that the journalists listened, and the negotiations worked out in the end.

 

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Last Night’s “I’ll Have Your Back” For Our Diplomats, and OMG! 13 Hours! Benghazi! Now! Boom! Boom! Boom!

Posted: 2:41 pm EDT

 

So the first of the Benghazi movies is here with Michael Bay’s “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi.” It looks like there are three more movies in the works (see You’ve Seen the Boooooks, Now Get Ready For the Benghazi Movies!).

Anyway, today’s the day you’ve all been waiting for, of course.

The New York Times reviewed it:

Here is what The Atlantic says:

No one wanted? Really?

About that CIA chief and the stand down order, the chief finally speaks out:

The Intercept mentions the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles!

The Guardian says it sent its writer-at-large to his local multiplex and he found out that Bay’s Benghazi spectacular is far from the perfect date film but does sum up a particular slice of the American psyche.  @dave_schilling writes about the  American Way.

Regardless, Ted Cruz and his fellow candidates will surely try to use this motion picture for their own personal gain for as long as possible. That’s what we do with tragedy in this country, after all. We build a memorial, complete with a gift shop stocked with all the cheaply made junk imaginable. We crank out corny movies based on the true story in the hope that enough people will drag their significant other to the theater to experience the sadness first-hand, with the explicit goal of making a sorry buck off the misery. And we try to score political points whenever possible. That’s the American Way.

At last night’s GOP debate, Mr. Cruz did talk about Benghazi:

CRUZ: “13 Hours” — tomorrow morning, a new movie will debut about the incredible bravery of the men fighting for their lives in Benghazi and the politicians that abandoned them. I want to speak to all our fighting men and women.

I want to speak to all the moms and dads whose sons and daughters are fighting for this country, and the incredible sense of betrayal when you have a commander-in-chief who will not even speak the name of our enemy, radical Islamic terrorism, when you have a commander-in- chief who sends $150 billion to the Ayatollah Khamenei, who’s responsible for murdering hundreds of our servicemen and women.

I want to speak to all of those maddened by political correctness, where Hillary Clinton apologizes for saying all lives matter. This will end. It will end on January 2017.

CRUZ: And if I am elected president, to every soldier and sailor and airman and marine, and to every police officer and firefighter and first responder who risk their lives to keep us safe, I will have your back.

Dammit… no “I’ll have your back” for our diplomats.

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Obama Names @StateDept Spox John Kirby as New Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs

Posted: 2:03 am EDT

 

We heard this back in October (@StateDept’s Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs: Doug Frantz Out, John Kirby In). On December 10, the White House officially announced President Obama’s intent to nominate State Department spokesman John Kirby to be Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs. He will succeed Douglas Frantz (Kerry’s deputy staff director and chief investigator of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when he was a senator) who was announced as Deputy Secretary-General of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in October. It looks like Admiral Kirby will be dual hatted as A/S and spokesperson.

Below is Kirby’s official bio via state.gov (we’re quite sure this position requires a Senate confirmation we’re told this position no longer requires Senate confirmation. Thanks @APDiploWriter):

John Kirby was appointed as the Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Public Affairs on December 11, 2015.  Prior to that he served as the the Spokesperson for the Department of State. Kirby previously served as Pentagon Press Secretary, serving for more than a year as the chief spokesman for the Department of Defense and for former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel. He retired from the Navy in May 2015 with the rank of Rear Admiral.

Kirby was commissioned in September 1986 after completing Officer Candidate School at Newport, R.I. He qualified as a surface warfare officer aboard the guided-missile frigate USS Aubrey Fitch (FFG 34). As a public affairs officer, Kirby served at sea aboard the aircraft carrier USS Forrestal (CV 59) and on the staff of the Commander, U.S. 2nd Fleet, embarked aboard the command and control ship USS Mount Whitney (LCC 20).

While ashore, Kirby completed tours as an instructor at the U.S. Naval Academy; public affairs officer with the Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron (Blue Angels); editor-in-chief of the Navy’s Flagship monthly magazine, All Hands; the staffs of the Chief of Naval Personnel, U.S. Naval Forces Europe, Chief of Naval Operations, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Media Operations.

Kirby also served as the U.S. Navy’s Chief of Information (CHINFO), serving as the principal spokesman for the Department of the Navy and providing strategic communication counsel to the Secretary of the Navy and the Chief of Naval Operations. As CHINFO, he led the Navy’s public affairs community consisting of more than 2,700 active and reserve officer, enlisted and civilian communication professionals.

John Kirby grew up in St. Petersburg, Fla., graduating from St. Petersburg Catholic High School in 1981. He is a 1985 graduate of the University of South Florida in Tampa, Fla., where he received a Bachelor’s degree in History. He holds a Master of Science degree in International Relations from Troy State University and a Master of Arts in National Security and Strategic Studies from the Naval War College.

According to history.state.gov, the Department of State created the position of Assistant Secretary of State for Public and Cultural Relations during a general reorganization in Dec 1944, after Congress authorized an increase in the number of Assistant Secretaries in the Department from four to six (Dec 8, 1944; P.L. 78-472; 58 Stat. 798). The reorganization was the first to designate substantive designations for specific Assistant Secretary positions. The Department changed the title to Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs in 1946. American poet Archibald MacLeish served as the first Assistant Secretary from December 1944-August 1945.

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Related posts:

@StateDept’s Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs: Doug Frantz Out, John Kirby In

Don’t Worry, Be Happy — John Kirby Officially Takes Over as @StateDeptSpox

Tweet of the Day: Admiral John Kirby as Next Foggy Bottom Spokesman

Shuffling the Spoxes: Admiral Kirby Out, Psaki to White House, New Spoxes Race Is On!

 

US Embassy Thailand: Ambassador Glyn Davies’ Talk Sparks Protest in Bangkok

Posted: 1:22 am EDT

 

The US Ambassador to Thailand Glyn T. Davies was nominated by President Obama on April 14, 2015, confirmed by the Senate on August 5, and sworn in on September 14, 2015.  A career member of the Senior Foreign Service, Ambassador Davies also served as the Permanent Representative of the United States to the International Atomic Energy Agency and the United Nations Office in Vienna from June 2009 until November 2011.  He previously served as the Special Representative of the U.S. Secretary of State for North Korea Policy from January 2012 to November 2014.  Since his arrival in Thailand in September, he has traveled and acquainted himself with his host country.  Here’s Ambassador Davies during a local celebration:

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On November 23 Ambassador and Mrs. Davies celebrated their first Loy Krathong with Thai and American staff. The festival featured traditional Thai dances, Thai games, krathong making contests, in addition, to Ambassador and Mrs. Davies participating in a “ram wong” with other members of the Embassy community.

On Nov. 24, Ambassador Davies gave a talk at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club ofThailand. As of this writing, we have been unable to locate the transcript of Ambassador Davies’ talk at the FCCT.

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Ambassador Davies quickly became a target of a protest for his recent comments on the lese majeste law:

The BBC News explained Thailand’s lese majeste laws here. Al Jazeera notes that since taking power in May 2014, Thailand’s military government has come under scrutiny for their heavy-handed application of a decades-old law written to protect the Thai royal family.

The Asian Observer has posted a lengthy list of the lese majeste charges filed since 2007.  An Asia One report  in late 2014 says that the Thai Police have dealt with more than 10,000 cases of lese majeste in recent years.

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Nepal-India Blockade Continues, USAID’s Programs Grinding to a Halt and the Ugly in the Horizon

Posted: 1:29 pm EDT


Via
time.com

On Sept. 16, Nepal passed a long-awaited constitution containing several controversial clauses. Chief among these was a refusal to allow for Madhesi- and Tharu-majority provinces near the Indian border. While supporters insisted such a move was necessary to counteract Indian dominance, ethnic Tharus and Madhesis termed it a form of prejudice. Protests began in August and have been, at times, violent, reportedly claiming more than 40 lives. Citing security concerns, India launched an unofficial border blockade shortly after the constitution was enacted. While many here believe the blockade is an expression of India’s disapproval of the constitution, New Delhi has steadfastly denied political interference. “The reported obstructions are due to unrest, protests and demonstrations on the Nepalese side, by sections of their population,” said a statement issued on the Indian Foreign Ministry website on Sept. 25.

Regardless of intention, the impact has been substantial. In early October, Nepal’s scant reserves neared exhaustion and the government was forced to introduce fuel rationing. Since then, the effects have spread to every sector. At local markets, food prices have gone up — 30%, 50%, 100%. Restaurants are raising prices and scaling back production and, even in the capital city of Kathmandu, homeowners have begun switching from propane to firewood. Buses are severely overloaded, private transport uncomfortably expensive. Getting petrol requires waiting for hours, or even days, on queue for the government ration or paying black market rates out of reach for most Nepalese. Ambulances don’t have enough petrol to operate, hospitals are running out of supplies, social services severely curtailed.

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Below is what Gulfutar, a neighborhood about 3 kilometers north of the US Embassy in Kathmandu looks like.  The lines for cooking fuel are said to be also huge.  We understand that USAID programs are reportedly grinding to a halt for lack of fuel and so are other development agencies that are trying to help Nepal recover from the quake. With the winter season just a few weeks away, “this could get very, very ugly” is what we’re hearing.

USAID programs in Nepal reportedly seeks to reinforce recent gains in peace and security, stabilize the transitional government, strengthen the delivery of essential social services, expand proven health interventions, and address the global challenges of food insecurity and climate change.

How do you do that when on the ground reality is like this?

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Thousands of Nepalis line up for a small allotment of fuel in Kathmandu as the “unofficial blockade” continues. Photo by Derek Brown via FB (used with permission)

With extremely limited fuel, people are reportedly resorting to extreme measures to get around.   A bus with approx 90 people (a vehicle with a 35 person capacity) went off a cliff last week.

The most recent embassy message to U.S. citizens on travel and fuel is dated over a month ago, and the fuel situation has not gotten better as the blockade continues:

We recommend that travelers evaluate any upcoming travel plans in Nepal.  Due to the nationwide fuel shortage, due to blockages at the border with India, many of the safety measures that would normally be relied on in an emergency situation may become unavailable.  These measures include air medevacs and local hospitals.  As of today these services are still operational, but service providers are facing dwindling supplies.  If you are planning multi-day travel the situation could change drastically during your trip.  Please consider that if you are trekking in a remote area and become injured, there will be limited options for you to be rescued until the fuel situation returns to normal.  Tourist facilities continue to operate in the Kathmandu valley, but levels of service may be lower than normal.  It is estimated that the fuel situation will not return to normal until 2-3 weeks after the border supply lines are fully restored.

The UKFCO has issued a travel advice and notes that delays at border crossings have caused a severe fuel shortage which is affecting travel and provision of some emergency services. Some airlines have stopped or reduced the number of domestic flights they’re operating in Nepal until further notice.

Meanwhile, on November 5, the US Embassy in Nepal released the following statement about being “deeply concerned by the increasingly volatile situation along the Nepal-India border.”  You could practically see folks rolling their eyes:

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