U.S. Embassies Baku and Yerevan Restricts USG Personnel Travel to Armenian-Azerbaijani Border

— Domani Spero
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Over the weekend, the US embassies in Baku and Yerevan issued emergency messages to the respective U.S. citizens in their host countries alerting them of the security situation along the Armenian-Azerbaijani border.  U.S. government personnel travel to this border area is now restricted. US Embassy Yerevan also notes the increased tensions along the Line of Contact in the Nagorno-Karabakh region.

US Embassy Yerevan, Armenia |August 2, 2014 via

Due to increased tension in the security situation along the Armenian-Azerbaijani border in the Tavush Province, the U.S. Embassy in Yerevan advises U.S. citizens to avoid travel to this border area.  U.S. government personnel travel to this border area is restricted.  Villages and their connecting border roads in this area include, but are not limited to, Vazashen, Varagavan, Paravakar, Aygepar, Azatamut, and Barekamavan.  The embassy notes this area also includes the segment of the frequently traveled route between Yerevan and Tbilisi on M-16/H-26 from Azatamut through Jujevan to the Georgian border.  

Tensions have also increased along the Line of Contact in the Nagorno-Karabakh region.  Consular services continue to be unavailable to U.S. citizens in Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding territories.

US Embassy Baku, Azerbaijan | August 2, 2014

Due to recent escalation in hostilities at the Armenian-Azerbaijani border, the U.S. Embassy in Baku advises U.S. citizens to defer all non-essential travel to the Armenian-Azerbaijani border near the line of contact.  Consular services are no longer available to U.S. citizens in that area.  U.S. government personnel travel to the area is restricted for security reasons.

Note that Ambassador Richard L. Morningstar who was appointed to Azerbaijan in 2012 has recently announced his departure (pdf) from post after a two-year tenure. Prior to his appointment to Baku, he was the Secretary of State’s Special Envoy for Eurasian Energy.

A related note — last month, the Co-Chairs of the Minsk Group expressed their serious concern about the increase in tensions and violence, including the targeted killings of civilians, along the Line of Contact and the Armenian-Azerbaijani border. The Co-Chairs urged the parties “to commit themselves to avoiding casualties and rejected the deliberate targeting of villages and the civilian population. They called on the Foreign Ministers to defuse tensions and adhere to the terms of the ceasefire.”  Over the weekend,  the Co-Chairs expressed their deep concern about the intense upsurge in violence along the Line of Contact and Armenian-Azerbaijani border that resulted in numerous casualties reported in recent days. They released the following statement:

The Chairperson-in-Office and the Co-Chairs of the Minsk Group said that they were deeply concerned about the fact that a clearly marked International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) vehicle came under fire while assisting the local population on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border on a humanitarian mission. They strongly condemned the deliberate targeting of civilians and shooting at representatives of international organizations and reminded the parties of their obligations under Geneva Conventions.

They appealed to the Presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan to take immediate action to defuse tensions and respect the ceasefire agreement. Retaliation and further violence will only make it more difficult to continue efforts to bring about a lasting peace, the Chairperson-in-Office and the Co-Chairs of the Minsk Group emphasized. They also urged the Presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan to resume as soon as possible negotiations on peaceful settlement of the conflict, being the only way to bring peace and genuine reconciliation to the peoples of the region.

 

You might remember that the Minsk Group came out of the OSCE Budapest Summit in 1994 tasked with convening a forum for negotiations towards a peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict involving Armenia and Azerbaijan.  Twenty years on and they’re still at it. The Co-Chairs of the Minsk Group are Ambassadors Igor Popov of the Russian Federation; Pierre Andrieu of France; and James Warlick of the United States.

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USAID’s undercover Latin youth — whose brainchild is this, pray tell (video)

— Domani Spero
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Read more here. Documents about this program is at http://apne.ws/UxJ05x.

Whose brainchild is this, pray tell.

Alan Gross, the  65-year-old American citizen mentioned in this article has been imprisoned in Cuba since 2009. His family has mounted a petition demanding Mr. Gross’ “immediate release” and  that “the Cuban and U.S. governments sit down and resolve Alan’s case.”

This morning, USAID released a statement about what it calls, the AP’s “sensational claims,”excerpt below:

Congress funds democracy programming in Cuba to empower Cubans to access more information and strengthen civil society. USAID makes information about its Cuba programs available publicly at foreignassistance.gov. This work is not secret, it is not covert, nor is it undercover. Instead, it is important to our mission to support universal values, end extreme poverty and promote resilient, democratic societies. Chief among those universal values are the right to speak freely, assemble and associate without fear, and freely elect political leaders. Sadly, the Cuban people and many others in the global community continue to be denied these basic rights.

One paragraph in the article captures the purpose of these and many civil society programs, which is to empower citizens to “tackle a community or social problem, win a ‘small victory’ and ultimately realize that they could be the masters of their own destiny.” But the story then goes on to make sensational claims against aid workers for supporting civil society programs and striving to give voice to these democratic aspirations. This is wrong.

USAID remains committed to balancing the realities of working in closed societies–particularly in places where we do not have a USAID mission and governments are hostile to U.S. assistance–with our commitment to transparency, and we continuously balance our commitment to transparency with the need for discretion in repressive environments. In the end, USAID’s goal is to continue to support democracy, governance and human rights activities in multiple settings, while providing the maximum transparency possible given the specific circumstances.

A couple of items from that USAID statement: 1)   “the Cuban people and many others in the global community,” does that mean this happened in Cuba and elsewhere?; 2) “with our commitment to transparency” — USAID’s Cuba programs data available publicly at foreignassistance.gov only covers FY2013 and 2014 and not the years covered by the AP report. USAID also would not tell the AP how much the Costa Rica-based program cost.

These young “aid workers” from Venezuela, Costa Rica and Peru sent to Cuba could have been arrested and jailed for 10 years for the work they did for USAID, and the agency would have been able to claim that these are not USG employees.  The US has not been able to effect the release of USAID contractor Alan Gross, would it be any more successful intervening for the release of foreign nationals who are not?  Also, the notion that you can run democracy promotion operations like this in certain parts of the world and that it will not have a dangerous blowback against USAID employees advancing development work in other parts of the world, is frankly, lunacy.

Does USAID have a scenario planned for what happens after a ‘Cuban Spring’unfolds in Cuba? Is it publicly available at fomentingchange.gov?

Just a reminder, the nominee for USAID OIG, in case you’re wondering has been waiting for Senate confirmation since July 2013 (see Officially In: Michael G. Carroll – From Deputy IG to USAID/OIG).

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Snapshot: Afghanistan Provincial Reconstruction Teams

— Domani Spero
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According to the Congressional Research Service (CRS), the May 20-21, 2012, NATO summit in Chicago expressed agreement to phase out the PRTs in Afghanistan by the end of 2014. The July 2014 CRS report also indicates that as of December 1, 2013, 12 PRTs have been transferred to Afghan control, and that the remaining 16 are to be transferred by the end of 2014.  District Support Teams (DSTs), which help district officials provide government services, are to close by the end of 2014 as well.  USAID and CRS calculations put the PRT projects cost (development and local governance) from FY2001 to 2011 at over USD $1.2 billion.

 

Screen Shot 2014-08-03

Screen Shot 2014-08-03

 

Below via the CRS:

The PRTs, the concept for which was announced in December 2002, have performed activities ranging from resolving local disputes to coordinating local reconstruction projects, although most U.S.-run PRTs and most PRTs in combat-heavy areas focused on counterinsurgency. Many of the additional U.S.civilian officials deployed to Afghanistan during 2009 and 2010 were based at PRTs, which have facilities, vehicles, and security. Some aid agencies say they felt more secure since the PRT program began,49 but several relief groups did not want to associate with military forces because doing so might taint their perceived neutrality. Virtually all the PRTs, listed in Table 15, were placed under the ISAF mission. Each PRT operated by the United States has had U.S. forces to train Afghan security forces; DOD civil affairs officers; representatives of USAID, State Department, and other agencies; and Afghan government (Interior Ministry) personnel. USAID officers assigned to the PRTs administer PRT reconstruction projects. USAID spending on PRT projects is in the table at the end of this report.
[…]
Despite the benefits, President Karzai consistently criticized the PRTs as holding back Afghan capacity-building and repeatedly called for their abolition as “parallel governing structures.” USAID observers backed some of the criticism, saying that there was little Afghan input into PRT development project decision-making or as contractors for PRT-funded construction.

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State Department OIG Published Reports — July 2014

— Domani Spero
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In case you missed these, here are the reports made publicly available by the State Department Office of Inspector General in the month of July.  All reports are in PDF format.

-07/31/14   Review of Remote Voucher Processing (ISP-I-14-21)  [304 Kb]  Posted on July 30, 2014
-07/31/14   Inspection of Embassy Bujumbura, Burundi (ISP-I-14-20A)  [301 Kb]  Posted on July 30, 2014
-07/31/14   Inspection of the Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation (ISP-I-14-19)  [330 Kb]  Posted on July 23, 2014
-07/31/14   Inspection of Embassy Kampala, Uganda (ISP-I-14-18A)  [569 Kb]  Posted on July 23, 2014
-07/31/14   Review of Gifts to Embassy Employees (ISP-I-14-17)  [571 Kb]  Posted on July 23, 2014
-07/31/14   Inspection of Embassy La Paz, Bolivia (ISP-I-14-16A)  [595 Kb]  Posted on July 17, 2014
-07/31/14   Inspection of the Bureau of Arms Control, Verification, and Compliance (ISP-I-14-14A)  [555 Kb]  Posted on July 7, 2014
-07/31/14   Inspection of the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (ISP-IB-14-15)  [598 Kb]  Posted on July 7, 2014

 

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OIG to State: Here’s How to Save $4.3 Million Annually

— Domani Spero
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State/OIG reviewed the remote voucher processing of the State Department early this year and concluded that the agency can save an estimated $4.3 million annually if embassies with the highest voucher processing costs processed 50 percent of their vouchers remotely. While the remote processing unit (Post Support Unit (PSU) currently charges embassies $12 per voucher, it costs significantly higher overseas. For instance, it cost $71.40 to process a voucher in Paris, $57.59 in Kuwait, and $41.77 in Conakry.  The PSU reports that it is able to keep voucher processing costs low by operating in locations with low labor costs, like Thailand, Bulgaria, South Carolina, and soon the Philippines.

The OIG report says that vouchering costs at large and medium-sized embassies totaled $32 million in FY 2013 but that only 13 percent of embassy-funded vouchers were processed remotely in 2013.  According to the inspectors, the resistance to processing vouchers remotely stems from bureaus’ and embassies’ reluctance to reduce embassy-based voucher examiner positions and associated funding.

The OIG recommends that the Under Secretary for Management “mandate that the 20 embassies with the highest potential cost savings through Post Support Unit use increase the percentage of vouchers they process remotely to 50 percent by the end of 2016 to allow for $4.3 million in savings annually.”

 

via State/OIG

via State/OIG

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Related item:

Review of Remote Voucher Processing (ISP-I-14-21)  [304 Kb]  Posted on July 30, 2014