Two Days, Two Diplomatic Incidents: U.S. Embassy Brussels, U.S. Embassy Seoul

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@StateDept Recalls Amb. Marie Yovanovitch From Ukraine After Persistent Campaign For Removal

 

The U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovich has reportedly been recalled and now expected to depart post on or about May 20. This development followed a persistent campaign for her removal among conservative media outlets in the United States as well as allegations by Ukrainian Prosecutor-General Lutsenko concerning a do not prosecute list.

The State Department reportedly told RFE/RL  on May 6,  that Ambassador Yovanovitch “is concluding her 3-year diplomatic assignment in Kyiv in 2019 as planned.” And that “her confirmed departure date in May aligns with the presidential transition in Ukraine,” which elected a new president in April.

While that may well be true – she was confirmed in 2016, a 3-year tour is a typical assignment; the new Ukraine president takes office on June 3rd — it is hard to ignore the louder voices calling for the ambassador’s removal from post for political reasons. It doesn’t help that there is no Senate confirmed EUR Assistant Secretary or that the Secretary of State did not see it fit to come forward to defend his top representative in a priority country in Europe.

Ambassador Yovanovich is a career diplomat and a Senate-confirmed Ambassador representing the United States in Ukraine. She previously served as Ambassador to the Republic of Armenia (2008-2011) under President Obama and to the Kyrgyz Republic (2005-2008) under President George W. Bush. We’ve seen people calling career diplomats “holdovers”. If they were political appointees, they would be called “holdovers” or “burrowers,” but they are career public servants; that term does not apply to them. If some folks insists on calling them “holdovers,” then the least that these folks can do is to accurately enumerate all the public servants’ prior presidential appointments, some going back 30 years at the start of their careers in the diplomatic service.

Perhaps it is helpful to point out that as career appointees, ambassadors like Ambassador Yovanovich do not go freelancing nor do they go rogue; they do not make their own policy concerning their host country.  They typically get their marching orders from their home bureau, in this case, the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs (EUR) at the State Department, under the oversight of the Under Secretary for Political Affairs, who report to the Secretary of State.  And they follow those orders.  Even if they disagree with those orders or the administration’s policies. Career diplomats who do not follow their instructions do not have lengthy careers in the diplomatic service.

After all that, if the United States is taking the word of a foreign official over our own ambassador, it’s open season for our career diplomats. Will the “you want a U.S. ambassador kicked out from a specific country go on teevee ” removal campaign going to become a thing now? Will the Secretary of Swagger steps up?

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At the @StateDept’s International Women of Courage Awards, a Regrettable Lack of Courage

Published 12:15 am EDT

 

Secretary Pompeo (Mar. 7  – Excerpt):

Women of courage exist everywhere. Most will never be honored. They face different challenges, but challenges that still matters. I’ve personally, of course, had this experience as well. I’ve witnessed women service in my time in the military and have been inspired by them in my personal life. My mother, too, was a woman of courage. She was born in rural Kansas. She helped make ends meet while raising three kids. She never managed to get to college, but made sure that each of us had enormous opportunity. You all know women like this. They’re strong. She was dedicated to providing opportunity for me and my siblings, and we didn’t appreciate the sacrifices that she had endured. And she also raised me to be really smart; I met another courageous woman, Susan, my wife, who’s here with me today. (Laughter and applause.)

We all know – I know – from a lifetime of experience that women of courage exist everywhere and they’re needed everywhere. That’s one reason I’ve appointed women to dozens of senior leadership roles here at the place I am privileged to work. From under secretaries to assistant secretaries to non-career ambassadorships, we know here we can’t succeed without empowering women worldwide, and that means we need to make sure that we have women empowered at our department worldwide.

And now it’s my honor to welcome our distinguished guest speaker today, a woman of incredible power and courage, a woman who has been a powerful advocate in her own right. Since becoming First Lady, she’s been increasingly outspoken against the enslavement of human trafficking and sexual abuse of women and girls all around the globe. I know she will continue to be an influential leader, an influential voice who inspires future women leaders like herself all around the world. Please join me in welcoming the First Lady of the United States of America, Melania Trump. (Applause.)  Full Text»

Wow, okay, can somebody please tell the secretary of state that he needs better speechwriters, pronto?!

Also you’ve probably seen the news already about the rescinded award for Finnish journalist Jessikka Aro.  FP reported:

“…the State Department spokesperson said in an email that Aro was “incorrectly notified” that she had been chosen for the award and that it was a mistake that resulted from “a lack of coordination in communications with candidates and our embassies.” “We regret this error. We admire Ms. Aro’s achievements as a journalist, which were the basis of U.S. Embassy Helsinki’s nomination,” the spokesperson said.
[…]
To U.S. officials who spoke to FP, the incident underscores how skittish some officials—career and political alike—have become over government dealings with vocal critics of a notoriously thin-skinned president.
[…]
In the minds of some diplomats, this has created an atmosphere where lower-level officials self-censor dealings with critics of the administration abroad, even without senior officials weighing in.

Our understanding is that posts who submit  nominations for this award are typically required to affirm that they had thoroughly vetted their candidates,  including social media.  The nominations do not happen in secret. Posts actually have to tell their candidates that they’re being nominated otherwise they may not be available when the award is handed out. Posts also have to tell their candidates when they are not selected.

It is likely that we won’t now exactly what happened here until we get to the oral history part many years down the road.

For now, we’re just watching out on who will throw those unnamed lower level officials under the bus, then run them over some more until you see the tire tracks on their souls?

Amb Philip Reeker to Return to @StateDept as EUR’s Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary

Posted: 12:01 am EDT

 

Via @StateDept deputy spox:

“We are delighted to welcome back Ambassador Philip Reeker to Washington later this month. On March 18th, he will become the principal deputy assistant secretary and acting assistant secretary of the Department of State’s Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs. Now, Ambassador Reeker is a career Foreign Service officer who’s currently the civilian deputy commander at the U.S. European Command in Stuttgart. He’s previously served as the consul general in Milan; as the deputy assistant secretary for the Balkans, Central Europe, as well as Holocaust issues; as the United States ambassador to what is now North Macedonia; and – the only blight on his entire professional career – he was previously the department’s deputy spokesperson.”

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@StateDG Perez Swears-In Career Diplomat Lynne Tracy as US Ambassador to Armenia

Posted: 3:52 am EST

 

On August 26, 2008 gunmen ambushed FSO Lynne Tracy’s vehicle in Peshawar, Pakistan, riddling the car with bullets. She survived the attack. Her Award for Heroism reads: “In recognition of your brave service as Principal Officer in Peshawar, Pakistan from September 2006 to August 2009. Despite a violent kidnapping attempt and threats against your life, you remained at this critical post to complete your mission with steadfast courage and gallant leadership.” See HRC Presents Heroism Award to Lynne Tracy

On February 19, she was sworn-in as the new Ambassador to the U.S. Embassy in Yerevan, Armenia.

EUR’s Wess Mitchell Quits, New Acting EUR A/S Millard Reportedly to Retire 2/22

Posted: 1:57 am EST

Big news last week was the soon to be departure of EUR’s Assistant Secretary Wess Mitchell who is leaving his post after some 15 months on the job. A/S Mitchell took office in October 2017 and is resigning from his appointment effective February 15. The State Department announced that the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary (PDAS) Elisabeth Millard will serve as Acting A/S for the European and Eurasian Affairs. We’re not sure how long she will be in that acting capacity as we understand that her paperwork has been submitted to retire on February 22. The bureau appears to have six career DASes, two special envoys (one career, one noncareer), and one vacancy (Coordinator of U.S. Assistance to Europe and Eurasia  – is this a newly created position?). In any case, let us know when you know who will be the next Acting A/S.

Emergency Messages During Government Shutdown

A tsunami hit the coastal areas around the Sunda Strait in Indonesia (between the islands of Java and Sumatra) on December 22, 2018. It affected the Pandeglang, South Lampung, and Serang districts (as well as the resort area of Anyer). As of this writing, the tsunami death toll is now 373, with 128 missing and 1,459 injured.

The location of the tsunami is about 108 kilometers from the capital city of Jakarta. The U.S. Embassy in Jakarta (with constituent posts in Surabaya, Medan, and a Consular Agency in Bali) issued a Message to U.S. Citizens: U.S. Embassy Jakarta – Tsunami on the West Coast of Banten and Lampung on Sun, 23 Dec 2018.

The Embassy Alert to U.S. citizens provides the following actions to take and contact information for those requiring assistance:

Actions to Take:

  • Carefully consider travel plans and avoid nonessential travel to tsunami affected areas.
  • Review the Travel Advisory for Indonesia
  • Review information about what to do in the event of a tsunami.
  • Notify friends and family of your well-being.
  • Review information from the Government of Indonesia’s agency for disaster managementhere (Indonesian language only) and here.
  • For regular updates, follow the U.S. Consulate General in Surabaya on Twitter and Facebook and the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta at Twitter and Facebook.

Assistance:  

The Alert message is currently on travel.state.gov and the embassy’s website, but it is not pushed on to social media due to the government shutdown. The State Department’s deputy spox says that they “are not aware of any U.S. citizens directly affected, but stand ready to assist as needed.”

The Alert message suggests that for regular updates people should “follow the U.S. Consulate General in Surabaya on Twitter and Facebook and the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta at Twitter and Facebook.” But those feed are no longer updated regularly due to the lapse in appropriation.

Our Foreign Service posts in Jakarta say “visit @StateDept for updates.” We note of only two official tweets to-date: one tweet from @TravelGov calling the tsunami a “Weather Alert” (though tsunami can be caused by weather when the atmospheric pressure changes very rapidly, this tsunami is believed to have been triggered by an underwater landslide caused by the eruption of the nearby Anak Krakatau volcano), and one tweet from the State Department through the deputy spox. While the multiple deaths and injuries in the Indonesia tsunami did not appear to include American citizens, disasters and calamities (besides the one unfolding in Washington, D.C.) could happen anytime.

See US Embassy Jakarta’s tweet:

One of the last few tweets sent by US Consulate Surabaya was about the tsunami before it announced that its Twitter feed will not be updated due to the lapse in appropriation.

The former strategic planner for the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs (R) cited a policy cable from 2013, adopted formally as guidance in the Foreign Affairs Handbook which explicitly states that overseas missions using social media “should continue to do so in a crisis.” https://fam.state.gov/FAM/10FAH01/10FAH010060.html …. He rightfully noted that we are at an era when gov’t communication via social media is expected, particularly from a US embassy during a crisis affecting its host country. We agree that the use of social media to facilitate emergency communications with the public must be a prime consideration, rather than an afterthought. Posts’s feeds were the first place we looked up when we saw the tsunami alert online. We are sure we’re not the only one looking for information.

Just as we were about to post this, Reuters is reporting that Italy’s Mount Etna, Europe’s highest and most active volcano, erupted on December 24, and causing the closure of Catania airport on Sicily’s eastern coast. The social media accounts of US Embassy in Rome and its constituent posts in Florence and Naples have not been updated since the government shutdown took effect on December 22. Consulate Milan appears to be updating with holiday tweets as of nine hours ago. There does not appear to be any update from @StateDept concerning the Etna eruption.

Dec 21, 1988: PanAm103 Bombing #Lockerbie

US Ambassador to Poland Georgette Mosbacher Angers Poles

 

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Russia-Ukraine Tensions Escalate in Azov Sea, U.S. Issues Forceful Response: ZZZzzz

 

Still nothing from the State Department, Secretary Pompeo or US Embassy Ukraine  as of this writing, but the U.S. Special Representative for Ukraine did tweet a comment with three question marks. Note that the tweet isn’t ALL CAPS.

Also here’s the chief diplomat of the United States tweeting about military protection pay but no tweets, ALL CAPS or otherwise about the incident that Ukrainian Navy said has wounded six Ukrainian servicemen when Russian forces shot at and seized three Ukrainian naval vessels off the coast of Crimea.

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