U.S. Embassy Tel Aviv: Rafah Border Crossing Open For U.S. Passport Holders on July 14

– Domani Spero

 

Today Haaretz reports that Israel’s operation entered its sixth day as the death toll in Gaza mounted to more than 160 Palestinians and as the international community stepped up pressures to reach a cease-fire (live updates here).  However, the NYT notes that Israel and Hamas seemed to signal little public interest in international appeals for a cease-fire as they continued their barrages. “More than 130 rockets were fired out of Gaza into Israel on Sunday, with 22 intercepted, the Israeli Army said, while Palestinians expressed anger over the previous day’s Israeli strikes on a center for people with disabilities and on a home in an attack that killed 17 members of one extended family.”

Last week, Egypt opened the Rafah border crossing with the Gaza Strip.  Egyptian authorities have reportedly opened the crossing specifically to allow in wounded Palestinians for treatment in Egyptian hospitals. According to the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, the Rafah border crossing will re-open again tomorrow, July 14, and would allow entry of U.S. passport holders into Egypt although no assistance will be available from US Embassy Cairo at the crossing.  Below is the embassy statement:

The Department of State has received information from the Government of Egypt that the Rafah border crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt will open for United States Citizen passport holders on Monday, July 14, 2014, starting from 09:00 and closing at 15:00. U.S. citizens under the age of 16 can be escorted by one non-U.S. citizen parent only. At this time U.S. Lawful Permanent Residents (LPRs) cannot use the Rafah border crossing.

Please be advised that no U.S. Embassy Cairo personnel will be present at the Rafah border crossing or in the northern Sinai region, as this area is off limits to U.S. Embassy Cairo personnel due to security concerns. United States Citizens who travel through the Rafah border crossing into Egypt do so at their own risk.

On July 11, Embassy Tel Aviv also announced the relocation of its personnel out of Be’er Sheva due to ongoing hostilities:

Due to ongoing hostilities and the continuing rocket attacks throughout Israel, U.S. Embassy Tel Aviv has relocated Embassy personnel assigned to Be’er Sheva north to Herzliya.  The Embassy and its annexes continue to operate at minimal staffing.  The Consular Section will continue to provide only emergency services.  Embassy personnel are not permitted to travel south of greater Tel Aviv without prior approval.  Embassy families living in Tel Aviv and greater Tel Aviv, such as Herzliya, are being advised to remain in close communication with one another.

The Embassy continues to closely monitor the security situation and advises U.S. citizens to visit the website of the Government of Israel’s Home Front Command for further emergency preparedness guidance.

Recent events underscore the importance of situational awareness. We remind you to be aware of your surroundings at all times, to monitor the media, and to follow directions of emergency responders.

Read more here.

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John Kerry in Kabul: Brokering an Election Dispute Agreement in Photos

– Domani Spero

 

Via NYT:

KABUL, Afghanistan — Secretary of State John Kerry spent a second day here in the Afghan capital on Saturday shuttling between the top two presidential contenders and the presidential palace in an effort to forge an agreement on how to audit recent elections and preventAfghanistan’s first democratic transfer of power from collapsing.

The two candidates, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah and former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani, spent the day inside the United States Embassy building holding separate meetings with Mr. Kerry, according to campaign officials. Mr. Kerry then traveled to the palace to talk to President Hamid Karzai. Talks were continuing into early evening without food or drink because of Ramadan, for which Muslims fast during the day. Mr. Kerry complained, jokingly, to Mr. Karzai that his embassy had “starved” him, according to pool reports.

Here are some photos from his latest Kabul trip to broker an election dispute agreement between Abdullah and Ghani.

Stand Together

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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry appears before reporters with Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah on July 11, 2014, after he arrived at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan for a meeting about steps to resolve the country’s disputed presidential election between him and fellow candidate Ashraf Ghani. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry stands with Afghan presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani as he addresses reporters on July 11, 2014, after Ghani arrived at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan for a meeting about steps to resolve the country’s disputed presidential election between him and fellow candidate Abdullah Abdullah. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

Shake-hands

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Resolve this or no more aid

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Embrace of Rivals

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Afghan presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani, left, prepares to embrace rival Abdullah Abdullah, right, at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan on July 12, 2014, after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry helped broker an agreement on a technical and political plan to resolve the disputed outcome of the election between them. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

Harder than it looks

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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry sits with Afghan presidential candidates Abdullah Abdullah, left, and Ashraf Ghani, right, at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan on July 12, 2014, after he helped broker an agreement on a technical and political plan to resolve the disputed outcome of the election between them. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

 

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Tweet of the Day: Berlin asks US spy chief to leave Germany

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Confirmations: Douglas Silliman (Kuwait), Dana Shell Smith (Qatar), Darci Vetter (USTR)

– Domani Spero

 

Today, the U.S. Senate confirmed by voice vote President Obama’s nominees for Kuwait and Qatar:

  • Douglas Alan Silliman, Texas, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the State of Kuwait
  • Dana Shell Smith, Texas, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the State of Qatar

Yesterday, the U.S. Senate also confirmed the nomination of  Darci L. Vetter, of Nebraska, to be Chief Agricultural Negotiator, Office of the United States Trade Representative, with the rank of Ambassador.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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U.S. Embassy Kabul Construction Bulge: From $625M to $773M, Est. Completion Now Moved to 2016

– Domani Spero

 

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently evaluated the construction of U.S. Embassy Kabul due to “broad congressional interest” in the oversight and accountability of U.S. funds used in Afghanistan. The GAO wanted to see what contracts State put in place to construct new U.S. embassy facilities in Kabul starting in 2009; the extent to which construction requirements, cost, or schedule have changed, and the reasons for the changes; and the extent to which the present expansion matches projected needs.

The GAO reports that contract costs for construction have increased by nearly 24 percent, from $625.4 million to $773.9 million as of May 2014.  The original construction completion was to be the end of  summer 2014; the contractual delivery date for all permanent facilities is now anticipated for July 2016.

With the withdrawal of U.S. troops in the horizon, SIGAR recently said that “constraint on oversight of US-funded Afghan reconstruction will only worsen as more US coalition bases close” and that the “ability to monitor, manage & oversee reconstruction programs in Afghanistan will only become more difficult.”

And yet, Embassy Kabul’s permanent facilities—both older and newly-constructed office and apartment buildings—will eventually contain 1,487 desks and 819 beds.  The projected embassy staffing for 2015 is approximately 600 U.S. direct hires and 1,100 locally employed staff.  Without the military support, State would once more end up with potentially contracting its own security and life-support contractors as it did in Iraq.

Excerpt from the GAO report:

From 2002 through 2009, State took several actions to expand the U.S. embassy compound in Kabul. Initially, OBO refurbished the existing office building, built in the 1960s. Additionally, OBO completed the construction of a new chancery office building, staff apartments, and support facilities. As staffing increases continued, the embassy acquired hundreds of shipping containers for temporary offices and housing. The embassy also compressed office space by putting more desks in the new chancery and old existing office building. Today the Kabul embassy compound consists of the original compound on the west side of Great Massoud Road, referred to as the West Compound, and an expansion compound on the east side of Great Massoud Road, referred to as the East Compound.
[...]

Since the two contracts were awarded in 2009 and 2010, construction requirements have changed, costs have increased, and schedules have been extended. OBO’s original construction requirements have changed. In December 2009, OBO added two stories to planned office annex A. In September 2011, after the U.S. and Afghan governments did not reach agreement to transfer the Afghan Ministry of Public Health site to the U.S. government, OBO removed the parking facilities from Contractor 2’s contract. The embassy also requested that OBO reconfigure the existing office building’s second floor. In March 2012 and September 2013, new security upgrades to perimeter walls and guard towers were added. Because of the building alterations, OBO is building space for more desks and beds than originally planned. The new office annexes under construction are to contain 1,237 desks, a nearly 60 percent increase over the 778 desks originally planned. OBO is also building space for 661 beds, about 50 more than originally planned. 

Contract costs for construction have increased by nearly 24 percent, from $625.4 million to $773.9 million as of May 2014. (See table 1 on page 20 of the enclosure.) This $148.5 million cost increase is the result of multiple contract modifications to change construction requirements, including the transfer of construction requirements from the 1st contract to the 2nd contract.1 

The overall project schedule has also been extended. OBO had originally planned to complete all construction on the compound by the end of summer 2014; the contractual delivery date for all permanent facilities is currently July 2016. 
[...]

Factors affecting the project include: 

    • Increases in numbers and changes in composition of embassy staffing requirements. 
    • Risks introduced by State during planning, such as awarding contracts before the Afghan Ministry of Public Health site was fully acquired and tightly sequencing the work of two contractors on one construction site. 
    • Constructing new facilities on an occupied compound in a conflict environment. 
    • Contractor performance delays and transfer of construction requirements from one contract to another. 
    • Delays and changes to shipping routes of building materials due to difficulties with shipments transiting through Pakistan. 
Via GAO

Via GAO

We’ve seen this before, haven’t we?

It is difficult to determine whether current projects and existing facilities will meet future embassy needs. Long-term construction has been occurring in an unpredictable political and security environment characterized by dramatic changes in U.S. staff levels. Additionally, as the U.S. military draws down its presence in Afghanistan, State will have to decide whether to close its facilities in the field or engage support contractors to replace life-support services currently provided by the military, such as food, water, fuel, and medical services. Such changes may affect embassy staffing and operations. Future composition of U.S. agencies, staffing levels, and embassy facility needs continue to be subject to change.

Once current contracts are completed, the Kabul embassy’s permanent facilities—both older and newly-constructed office and apartment buildings—are to contain 1,487 desks and 819 beds. These totals do not include any desks or beds within temporary offices and housing that State expects to demolish. Furthermore, the desk totals assume that compressed office areas in currently crowded office buildings will be alleviated as some staff move out of those areas and into the newly completed office annexes. 

Projected embassy staffing for 2015 is approximately 600 U.S. direct hires and 1,100 locally employed staff. State is working to identify its and other agencies’ desk positions (both U.S. direct hires and locally employed staff) that will occupy the new office space. State is also examining how to accommodate new support contractors—either on or off compound—that may be used to provide needed services after the U.S. military departs Afghanistan. 

State is conducting a master planning study, due in August 2014, to address on-compound facility needs unmet by current construction. That plan may address parking facilities that were removed from the current construction project. State is also considering the continued use of various leased off-compound facilities in the future.

 

Read the full report here (pdf).

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Photo of the Day: Casual Tuesday in Beijing

– Domani Spero

 

Secretary Kerry, U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and U.S. Ambassador to China Max Baucus visit the Great Wall of China prior to the U.S.-#China Strategic & Economic Dialogue. More photos here where our ambassador has, we’re told “clearly been cropped out of the photos …probably because he looks so ….so… really… a polo?”

 

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry poses with U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and U.S. Ambassador to China Max Baucus as the three tour the Badaling section of the Great Wall of China after the Secretaries arrived in Beijing on July 8, 2014, for a two-day Strategic & Economic Dialogue with their Chinese counterparts. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry poses with U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and U.S. Ambassador to China Max Baucus as the three tour the Badaling section of the Great Wall of China after the Secretaries arrived in Beijing on July 8, 2014, for a two-day Strategic & Economic Dialogue with their Chinese counterparts. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

Maybe there’s a new dress code?

Photo via state.gov

Photo via state.gov

 

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USCG Milan: How to Talk With Your Hands Like a Real Italian – Watch!

– Domani Spero

 

The same post that brought us Statue Of Liberty celebrates 4th of July last year is back; this time teaching Americans how to talk with their hands like a real Italian. Here is US Consulate General Milan with the 16 hand gestures in rap.

Italy remains one of the top most visited countries in the world. Over 2 million Americans visited it last year. If it’s on your travel list this year, this might help you?

 

 

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Burn Bag: Self-drive in Kabul means what?

Via Burn Bag

“Self-drive” in Kabul means sitting alone and unarmed in the back of a GSO vehicle praying that your motor pool driver doesn’t decide to make 100 times his annual salary by selling you to the Taliban.

Via giphy.com

Via giphy.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Happy Birthday America! 4th of July Celebrations From Around the World

– Domani Spero

 

The 2014 July 4th celebrations at our diplomatic missions actually started this past February, with the U.S. Embassy Kathmandu celebration of the 238th Anniversary of the Independence of the United States of America on February 22, 2014. This was followed by  the US Embassy in Oman which hosted its independence day event on March 25, 2014 (see Open Season: This Year’s July 4th Independence Day Celebrations Officially On). Here are the well-timed red, white and blue celebrations that caught our eyes this year.

 

U.S. Consulate Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

In an unprecedented tribute to U.S. Independence Day, Rio de Janeiro’s iconic the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro was lit with the colors of the American flag on July 3, 2014.  U.S. Consul General to Rio de Janeiro John Creamer and Christ the Redeemer rector Father Omar Raposo  were at the monument for the special lighting, which happens as Brazil hosts approximately 90,000 U.S. tourists for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Pretty cool!

USCG Rio/FB

USCG Rio/FB

U.S. Embassy Tallin, Estonia

This 4th of July cake was so huge that it needed six people to carry it into the event hosted by Ambassador Jeffrey Levine.  We think that this cake was made by the  Radisson Blu Hotel in Tallinn. We don’t know many many years the hotel has been making this cake for the annual event but just below the photo is the time lapse video showing the making of the 300KG 4th of July cake for Embassy Tallinn a couple of years ago.  Amazing!

 

Independence Day Celebration, June 26, 2014 Photos by U.S. Embassy Tallinn

Independence Day Celebration, June 26, 2014
Photos by U.S. Embassy Tallinn

 

U.S. Embassy Nairobi, Kenya

 

U.S. Embassy Kampala, Uganda

4july14_uganda

U.S. Embassy Kabul, Afghanistan

Flags of the 50 United States hanging above the Independence Day celebration at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Tuesday,June 24, 2014. (Photo by Musadeq Sadeq/U.S. State Department)

US Embassy Kabul/Flickr

 

U.S. Embassy Beirut, Lebanon

Ambassador David Hale hosted a celebration on June 17 at BIEL with Lebanese officials, members of Parliament, and Embassy guests in attendance.

Via US Embassy Lebanon/FB

Via US Embassy Lebanon/FB

 

U.S. Embassy New Delhi, India

U.S. Embassy Canberra, Australia

Embassy Canberra ran a social media Independence Day contest and came up with MasterChef Australia contestants akitchencat
and The Bread & Butter Chef Kylie Ofiu  as winners to join them for the 4th of July bash.  American chef Tory McPhail also arrived in Canberra last week and got the Embassy kitchen prepped and ready to feed over 600 people for the event hosted by Ambassador John Berry.

Photo via US Embassy Canberra/FB

Photo via US Embassy Canberra/FB

 

U.S. Embassy Wellington, New Zealand

This year’s Independence Day event in Wellington hosted by DCM Marie C. Damour had a#USA culinary theme.  Check out some U.S. recipes at: http://www.discoveramerica.com/usa/culinary-landing.aspx Discover America. And here’s the Kentucky Honey!

Photo via US Embassy New Zealand/Flickr

Photo via US Embassy New Zealand/Flickr

 

U.S.Consulate General Auckland, New Zealand

U.S. Independence Day Event in Auckland, July 3, 2014.  U.S. Independence Day Event in Auckland, July 3, 2014.

U.S. Independence Day Event in Auckland, July 3, 2014.

U.S. Embassy Bangkok, Thailand

 

U.S. Embassy Rome, Italy

A Villa Taverna l’Ambasciatore Phillips ha ospitato il ricevimento per il Giorno dell’Indipendenza, per celebrare l’America e l’amicizia con l’Italia, tra musica, hamburgers e, ovviamente… Fireworks!!

U.S. Embassy Seoul, South Korea

 

Via US Embassy Seoul/FB

Via US Embassy Seoul/FB

 

U.S. Embassy Quito, Ecuador

 

U.S. Embassy  Tel Aviv, Israel

We’re excited to have @dominos with us today. Happy 4th, America. #july4tlv pic.twitter.com/HfyN1Wziyw

U.S. Embassy Valleta, Malta

Embassy Malta had Route 66 as its event and menu theme; the celebration includes vintage American cars on display in the compound.

4july14_malta

Photo via US Embassy Malta/FB

U.S. Embassy Madrid, Spain

U.S. Consulate General Barcelona, Spain

 

U.S. Embassy Copenhagen, Denmark

Rydhave, all ready to receive over 1.000 of Embassy Copenhagen’s closest friends and contacts. Entertainment this year was provided by Basim, and the band The Sentimentals. The Embassy’s own Sonia Evans performed the American national anthem.The food at the event was supplied by CP Cooking.

 

Photo by US Embassy Denmark

Photo by US Embassy Denmark

 

U.S. Embassy London, United Kingdom

 

U.S. Embassy Ottawa, Canada

 

 

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A Blackwater Warning Before the Nisour Square Shooting and the State Dept’s Non-Response

– Domani Spero

 

A James Risen  scoop over in NYT on how a warning on Blackwater in Iraq prior to the 2007 Nisour Square shooting that killed 17 civilians was ignored by the State Department. Quick excerpt:

State Department investigators arrived in Baghdad on Aug. 1, 2007, to begin a monthlong review of Blackwater’s operations, the situation became volatile. Internal State Department documents, which were turned over to plaintiffs in a lawsuit against Blackwater that was unrelated to the Nisour Square shooting, provide details of what happened.

It did not take long for the two-man investigative team — Mr. Richter, a Diplomatic Security special agent, and Donald Thomas Jr., a State Department management analyst — to discover a long list of contract violations by Blackwater.
[...]
The armored vehicles Blackwater used to protect American diplomats were poorly maintained and deteriorating, and the investigators found that four drunk guards had commandeered one heavily armored, $180,000 vehicle to drive to a private party, and crashed into a concrete barrier.
[...]
The investigators concluded that Blackwater was getting away with such conduct because embassy personnel had gotten too close to the contractor.
[...]
The next day, the two men met with Daniel Carroll, Blackwater’s project manager in Iraq, to discuss the investigation, including a complaint over food quality and sanitary conditions at a cafeteria in Blackwater’s compound. Mr. Carroll barked that Mr. Richter could not tell him what to do about his cafeteria, Mr. Richter’s report said. The Blackwater official went on to threaten the agent and say he would not face any consequences, according to Mr. Richter’s later account.

Mr. Carroll said “that he could kill me at that very moment and no one could or would do anything about it as we were in Iraq,” Mr. Richter wrote in a memo to senior State Department officials in Washington. He noted that Mr. Carroll had formerly served with Navy SEAL Team 6, an elite unit.
[...]
On Oct. 5, 2007, just as the State Department and Blackwater were being rocked by scandal in the aftermath of Nisour Square, State Department officials finally responded to Mr. Richter’s August warning about Blackwater. They took statements from Mr. Richter and Mr. Thomas about their accusations of a threat by Mr. Carroll, but took no further action.

Condoleezza Rice, then the secretary of state, named a special panel to examine the Nisour Square episode and recommend reforms, but the panel never interviewed Mr. Richter or Mr. Thomas.

Patrick Kennedy, the State Department official who led the special panel, told reporters on Oct. 23, 2007, that the panel had not found any communications from the embassy in Baghdad before the Nisour Square shooting that raised concerns about contractor conduct.

“We interviewed a large number of individuals,” Mr. Kennedy said. “We did not find any, I think, significant pattern of incidents that had not — that the embassy had suppressed in any way.”

Read in full Mr. Risen’s piece, Before Shooting in Iraq, a Warning on Blackwater.

Click here for text of the teleconference call on October 23, 2007 with then State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack and Ambassador Patrick F. Kennedy on the Report of the Secretary of State’s Panel on Personal Protective Services in Iraq. The Q and A below:

QUESTION: Hi, this is Brian Bennett from Time magazine. I’m wondering in these reviews — why this review wasn’t done earlier, complaints about contractor conduct have been relayed to Ambassador Khalilzad, tocharge d’affaires Margaret Scobey, to Ambassador Crocker. And I’m wondering if in looking into this you had found any communiqus that have gone out of the Embassy into main State in the months prior to the September 16th incident about concerns about contractor conduct and why wasn’t – why it took an event like September 16th for these concerns to be addressed?

AMBASSADOR KENNEDY: We — when you look through the report you’ll see that we interviewed a large number — large number of individuals. We did not find any, I think, significant pattern of incidents that had not — that the Embassy had suppressed in any way. No one told us that they had — that they had made reports to the Embassy that had been suppressed.

 

Also see the  Implementation of Recommendations from the Secretary of State’s Report on Personal Protective Service Details

We found the Panel’s 2007 report (see below).  The Panel was composed of Eric Boswell, George Joulwan, J. Stapleton Roy and Patrick F. Kennedy.  Appended at the end of the report are the list of interviewees, which includes the acting RSO named in the NYT report. It does not, however, include the names of  the Blackwater project manager, or  Jean C. Richter, the Diplomatic Security special agent nor Donald Thomas Jr., the State Department management analyst.  According to the NYT, Mr. Richter and Mr. Thomas declined to comment for its article.

Mr. Richter’s report that the private security firm’s manager there had threatened to kill him, an episode that  occurred just weeks before Blackwater guards shot and killed 17 Iraqi civilians in Nisour Square is available here via NYT.    We note also that Ambassador Kennedy was appointed Under Secretary of State for Management (M)  on November 6, 2007. Prior to assuming his position as “M,” he was Director of the Office of Management Policy, Rightsizing, and Innovation (M/PRI) from May 2007.

Read the Secretary of State’s Report on Personal Protective Service Details from 2007:

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