US Embassy #Cuba Now on Ordered Departure Over “Attacks of an Unknown Nature”

Posted: 2:26 pm PT
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On September 29, 2017, the State Department placed the U.S. Embassy in Havana on “ordered departure” status, making the departure of non-emergency personnel and family members from Cuba mandatory. This follows the earlier declaration for an “authorized departure” over Hurricane Irma, and after months of these reported “sonic” attacks. The State Department has also issued a new Travel Warning advising U.S. citizens to avoid travel to Cuba: “Because our personnel’s safety is at risk, and we are unable to identify the source of the attacks, we believe U.S. citizens may also be at risk and warn them not to travel to Cuba.”

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Ambassador John F. Tefft Pens Op-Ed as He Departs Russia, to Retire After 45 Years of Service

Posted: 2:23 am ET
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Ambassador John F. Tefft, the U.S. Ambassador to Russia left post on September 28. He is also retiring from the U.S. Foreign Service for the second time after 45 years of public service. He pens the following op-ed for The Moscow Times:

On the Day of My Departure

We need to rebuild trust between our two countries.

When I first joined the diplomatic service, working on the Soviet desk in the 1980s, our relationship with Russia was at a low point. The Soviet Union had just shot down a Korean Airliner, with almost 100 Americans including a Congressman on board. There was a lot of anger in America.

Today, as I prepare to leave Russia, our relationship has reached another low point. Americans are concerned and angry about Russian interference in our elections and by the Russian authorities’ refusal to accept their responsibility for it.

As Secretary Tillerson said, we need to rebuild trust between our two countries and move our relationship to a different place. The American people want the two most powerful nuclear nations in the world to have a better relationship. From the earliest days of this Administration we have said time and again that we would prefer a constructive relationship with Russia based on cooperation on common interests. We remain prepared to try to find a way forward.

Serving the American community is at the heart of the work of the U.S. Mission in Russia, and it will continue to be a main priority moving forward. The U.S. Embassy and our Consulates General throughout Russia first and foremost are here to provide services to the Americans living, working, and traveling in Russia. During my time here, I have seen what Americans can do in Russia to bring our countries together on a people-to-people, business-to-business, scholar-to-scholar, performer-to-performer level. This gives me hope, even during these difficult times.

With the help of our Foreign Commercial Service and Foreign Agricultural Service, U.S. and Russian businesses receive assistance developing and expanding new relationships and introducing innovative technologies. This increases trade and investment and strengthens ties between our two countries. I have seen how cattle ranchers from the United States and Russia work together to produce high quality beef for the Russian market and how American-trained managers bring productivity and streamlined processing into Russian businesses to help make them more profitable and more successful.

I am particularly proud of the positive influence U.S. companies have had on the Russian business culture. When I contrast the present business culture with what I witnessed here in the 1990s, I notice tremendous progress in the areas of transparency, business ethics, and corporate social responsibility.

U.S. companies have led by example on corporate social responsibility. One major soft drinks manufacturer has partnered with governmental and non-governmental organizations to preserve and protect important watersheds; an oil and gas corporation has provided over $250 million to support infrastructure and community projects in Sakhalin and Khabarovsk Krai; and a paper and pulp producer supports social programs in Svetogorsk. These are just a few of the many examples of the benefits of the presence of U.S. companies here in Russia. I have also been very impressed with Russia’s talented business leaders, including women, many of whom rose from entry-level positions at U.S. companies to the highest ranks of leadership.

As I look back over my time here in Russia, I am struck by the richness of Russian culture and history. I will look back fondly on my travels to places like Tikhvin, where I had the pleasure of visiting Rimsky-Korsakov’s childhood home and seeing the piano on which so many amazing and talented Russian composers played and composed their works. I will particularly remember my annual visits to events such as the pop-culture and entertainment conference Comic-Con, my travels throughout the country to visit American businesses and partnerships, and all of the opportunities I have to meet with many creative, intelligent young Russians who are inspired by the possibilities of what we can do when we work together.

We will continue to stand up for our interests while looking for avenues of dialogue. We remain dedicated to finding ways to bring together Russians and Americans both to discuss our differences and to discover the many things we have in common. Having seen how we weathered the storm in the 1980s and the dedication of our staff of talented professionals in the State Department back home and here in Mission Russia, I remain optimistic that our governments will ultimately find a way forward. On our side, we’re certainly ready.

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Ambassador Tefft served as the United States Ambassador to the Russian Federation since September 2014. He previously served as Ambassador to Lithuania from 2000 to 2003, to Georgia from 2005 to 2009, and to Ukraine from 2009 to 2013. He worked from 2004 to 2005 as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs responsible for U.S. relations with Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Moldova.

Ambassador Tefft retired from the Foreign Service in September 2013 and served as Executive Director of the RAND Corporation’s Business Leaders Forum from October 2013 to August 2014 until his recall to duty and confirmation as U.S. Ambassador to the Russian Federation.  From 2003 to 2004 Tefft was the International Affairs Advisor at the National War College in Washington, D.C. He was Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow from 1996 to 1999, and was Chargé d’Affaires from November 1996 to September 1997. His other Foreign Service assignments include Jerusalem, Budapest, and Rome.

He received the State Department’s Distinguished Honor Award in 1992, the DCM of the Year Award for his service in Moscow in 1999 and the Diplomacy for Human Rights Award in 2013. He also received Presidential Meritorious Service Awards in 2001 and 2005.

@StateDept on Amb. Friedman’s comment (again): “should not be read as a change in U.S. policy”

Posted: 1:26 am ET
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On September 11, the State Department had to distance itself from a comment made by its top representative in Israel (see @StateDept: Ambassador Friedman’s comment “does not represent a shift in U.S. policy”.  On September 28, State Department spox Heather Nauert, once more from the podium, said that it’s ambassador’s two percent comment “should not be read as a change in U.S. policy.” One reporter asked “if the perception that the ambassador to Israel has his thumb on the scale in the view of this conflict creating problems for the U.S.?” The spox had an interesting response that includes North Korea, and oh, maps.

Via the Daily Press Briefing:

QUESTION: Ambassador David Friedman in Israel gave an interview in which he said that only two percent of the West Bank is occupied. Does that reflect the U.S. position?

MS NAUERT: So I’ve also heard about this report, and when you mention that figure of two percent, I don’t know where that came from. That came from some report. I have no idea which report that came from. 14 9/28/2017

QUESTION: It was in the interview. It came from his —

QUESTION: It came from his own mouth.

QUESTION: It was from David Friedman’s mouth.

MS NAUERT: Oh. Okay, okay. I thought he was citing a report or something. Okay, okay. So I’m aware of what he said. His comments – and I want to be crystal clear about this – should not be read as a way to prejudge the outcome of any negotiations that the U.S. would have with the Israelis and the Palestinians. It should also not indicate a shift in U.S. policy.

QUESTION: Well, do they reflect – oh. So it does – so his comments by the U.S. ambassador to Israel do not reflect U.S. policy?

MS NAUERT: I just want to say it should not be read as a change in U.S. policy.

QUESTION: Did he go rogue?

QUESTION: This is —

QUESTION: So is this —

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah. That’s —

QUESTION: This is at least the second time that from this podium you’ve had to sort of clean up Ambassador Friedman’s remarks when he had upped the alleged occupation. Is this becoming an issue? I mean, even if it’s not a change of position, is the perception that the ambassador to Israel has his thumb on the scale in the view of this conflict creating problems for the U.S.?

MS NAUERT: I guess what I would say to that is we have some very effective leaders and representatives for the U.S. Government, including Jason Greenblatt, Mr. Kushner, who are spending an awful lot of time in the region trying to get both sides together to have talks about a lasting existence side by side. The President has made that one of his top priorities. And when we talk about top priorities here, we talk about the nuclear threat of North Korea, but also – the nuclear and ballistic missile threat of North Korea, but we also talk about this. And I think it indicates just how important this is to the President that he has put those two in charge of negotiating that.

In terms of the ambassador, I can’t comment any more for you on that other than to say our policy here has not changed.

QUESTION: Well, it sounds —

QUESTION: But when you say that – Heather, when you say — 15 9/28/2017

QUESTION: It sounds to me like you’re saying – that you’re telling – you’re telling the Palestinians and the Israelis don’t bother listening to the ambassador, listen to Greenblatt and Kushner.

MS NAUERT: I have not had the chance to speak to the ambassador, so I will hesitate at commenting too much —

QUESTION: I mean, the ambassador spoke —

MS NAUERT: Hold on – too much on what he said. I was not there. I have not heard it. I have not heard the context in which that conversation was had. But I just want to be clear that our policy has not changed.

QUESTION: Right. But the – but I mean, all that is fair enough, but the problem arises because he is the Senate-confirmed ambassador. Mr. – neither Greenblatt nor Kushner are. They’re just informal-type envoys. And ambassadors to every country are supposed to speak for and with the authority of the President of the United States. Do you not see that this is causing confusion?

And then as a purely factual matter, how much of – what percent of the West Bank does the United – does the administration believe is occupied?

MS NAUERT: I don’t know that we have a map of that or that we have —

QUESTION: You’ve got a lot of maps on that.

MS NAUERT: Do we have a lot of maps?

QUESTION: Oh, yeah.

MS NAUERT: Do we?

QUESTION: Yes.

MS NAUERT: Okay. Well, see, you all pre-date me here. I’ll go pull out some —

QUESTION: Heather, do you —

MS NAUERT: — the dusty shelves.

QUESTION: You have many, many, many, many maps.

MS NAUERT: Okay, okay. Said, go right ahead.

QUESTION: I want to follow up on something else that he said.

MS NAUERT: Yes. 16 9/28/2017

QUESTION: He said that the two-state solution has lost its meaning. Is that your position? I mean, this is – it’s been the case of past U.S. presidents – I mean U.S. ambassadors in Israel to speak for the State Department and to report directly to the Secretary of State. Has he cleared that with the Secretary of State?

MS NAUERT: I under – I understand. The Secretary is on a plane right now. I saw him earlier this morning at the China dialogue. I have not had a chance to talk with him about this.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS NAUERT: Okay.

QUESTION: Can we go back to Ambassador Friedman’s current comments —

MS NAUERT: Elise, I’m not going to have anything more for you on the ambassador.

QUESTION: Okay, but will you – I understand. But you just said that Jason Greenblatt and Jared Kushner are working on this issue.

MS NAUERT: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And then you – or before that, you said that Ambassador Friedman’s comments don’t reflect a change in policy. So aren’t you a bit concerned that the ambassador’s comments are detracting or going to harm the efforts by the President’s appointed envoys on this issue?

MS NAUERT: I think I would go back to the meetings that the President held where the Secretary was last week at the UN, in meeting with Mr. Abbas and meeting with Mr. Netanyahu. And I think they know – I know they know – just how strongly we feel about trying to bring peace, peace to that region.

QUESTION: Well, they – the President told him —

MS NAUERT: And —

QUESTION: — that last week and that yes, they came across – they came out of those meetings last week. And now this week —

MS NAUERT: And we both came out of those meetings very, very hopeful.

QUESTION: I understand that.

MS NAUERT: And they both had said something along the lines of “We have” – something along the lines of “We’ve never felt like we’re in a better position to reach this goal.” So I’m not going to tarnish that in any kind of way. I think we’re still going forward with that goal.

QUESTION: But that was last week. And this week, the ambassador is coming out and saying something completely different. Has he been — 17 9/28/2017

MS NAUERT: Well, let me just say, to my knowledge, we have not received any phone calls about this just yet. Okay?

Said, go ahead. Go right ahead.

QUESTION: Let me just follow up very quickly. I’m sorry. I just want to follow up, because today, the prime minister of Israel told the official news channel that he discussed with Mr. Greenblatt and with Mr. Friedman and, in fact, with Mr. Dermer, the ambassador, the Israeli ambassador here, that they – they want to close – he raised with them closing the PLO embassy here in Washington. You have anything on that? Do you know anything about that? Because I told the Palestinian ambassador. He says we have not heard anything; this is something that the Israelis are just saying they’re doing.

MS NAUERT: Okay.

QUESTION: Do you know anything about that?

MS NAUERT: You know what? I’m not familiar with that report. If I have anything for you on it, I will certainly get it to you, but I can refer you back to the government. Okay?

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Senate Confirms Mitchell (EUR), Siberell (Bahrain), Bass (Afghanistan), Huntsman (Russia)

Posted: 12:40 am ET
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On September 28, the U.S. Senate confirmed the nomination for the new Assistant Secretary for State for EUR, and the nominees as chiefs of mission to Bahrain, Afghanistan, and Russia.

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