USConGen Chennai: Diplomats Sample Hand-to-Mouth Dining at Kasivinayaga Mess

Posted: 2:41 am ET

 

Back in 2013, we blogged about the “boodle fight” at US Embassy Manila (see US Embassy Manila Hosts a “Boodle Fight” … or Fine Dining Combat Without the Flatware).  This week, the US Consulate General Chennai posted its first video in the Madras Week video series — which highlights everyday rhythm of Madras culture, food, and traditions. The clip below shows how you eat your meal with your hands. Communal dining similar to the “boodle fight” but not quite as up close and personal (you get to have your own banana leaf as plate).

Also read Simple formula keeps this mess afloat and  The Rules For Eating With Your Hands In India, Africa And The Middle East.

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@ClintonFdn, @StateDept, @HillaryClinton Get on Twitter Moments

Posted: 3:50 am ET

 

 

US Mission Russia Issues Alert on Confirmed Anthrax Cases in Siberia

Posted:1:23 am ET

Last week, the US Embassy in Moscow issued a message alerting U.S. citizens of confirmed anthrax cases in the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous District:

U.S. citizens residing in or traveling to the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous District should be aware of reported cases of anthrax affecting humans and animals in the region.

As of August 3, local media sources report 20 confirmed cases of anthrax in humans, resulting in the death of one child.  In total, more than 70 people have been hospitalized.  Between 1,500 and 2,300 animals have died or been killed in conjunction with efforts to combat spread of the disease.  According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, anthrax is spread by ingesting spores in the air, food, and drink, and is not transmitted by direct human-to-human contact.

Local media outlets report that the governor has declared a quarantine in the district, and the area immediately surrounding the site of the outbreak has been evacuated.  Authorities have also banned the export of animals, furs, antlers, or meat, as well as mushrooms and berries, from the affected area.  At this time, there have been no reports of the disease in neighboring regions.

U.S. citizens are encouraged to avoid travel to affected areas.  U.S. citizens in or transiting through the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous District should exercise caution, comply with local authorities’ instructions on quarantined areas, and follow local media for the latest information.  Any U.S. citizens who believe they may have been exposed to infected animals or animal products should seek medical attention.

The Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous District is under the consular district of USCG Yekaterinburg.

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#Olympics: Secretary Kerry in Rio With Presidential Delegation+, Plays Some Beach Volleyball

Posted: 3:34 am ET

On August 2, President Obama announced the designation of the Presidential Delegation to Attend the Opening Ceremony of the 2016 Olympic Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  The delegation will attend athletic events, meet with U.S. athletes, and attend the Opening Ceremony.

  • John Kerry, Secretary of State of the United States, will lead the delegation.

Members of the Presidential Delegation

  • Liliana Ayalde, U.S. Ambassador to the Federative Republic of Brazil, Department of State
  • Mari Carmen Aponte, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Department of State
  • Liz Allen, Deputy Assistant to the President and White House Deputy Communications Director
  • Ellie Schafer, Special Assistant to the President and Director of the White House Visitors Office
  • Mr. Mark Spitz, nine-time Olympic gold medalist, one-time Olympic silver medalist, one-time Olympic bronze medalist, men’s swimming

Secretary Kerry Poses For A Photo with the U.S. Men's Gymnastics Team U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and fellow members of the U.S. Presidential Delegation to the Summer Olympics pose for for a photo with the U.S. men's Olympic gymnastics team on August 6, 2016, at Olympic Park in Rio de Janiero, Brazil. [State Department Photo/ Public Domain]

Secretary Kerry Poses For A Photo with the U.S. Men’s Gymnastics Team U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and fellow members of the U.S. Presidential Delegation to the Summer Olympics pose for for a photo with the U.S. men’s Olympic gymnastics team on August 6, 2016, at Olympic Park in Rio de Janiero, Brazil. [State Department Photo/ Public Domain]

Secretary Kerry and Staff Tour the Men's Olympic Cycling Area Before The Start of a Race U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and State Department Senior Aide Jason Meininger walk along the Copacobana beach in Rio de Janiero, Brazil, as the Secretary and his fellow members of the U.S. Presidential Delegation tour the men's Olympic cycling area before the start of a race on August 6, 2016. [State Department Photo/Public Domain]

Secretary Kerry and Staff Tour the Men’s Olympic Cycling Area Before The Start of a Race
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and State Department Senior Aide Jason Meininger with Chief of Staff walk, along the Copacobana beach in Rio de Janiero, Brazil, as the Secretary and his fellow members of the U.S. Presidential Delegation tour the men’s Olympic cycling area before the start of a race on August 6, 2016. [State Department Photo/Public Domain]

Italian Prime Minister Renzi Speaks With Secretary Kerry As They Watch An Olympic Men's Beach Volleyball Game Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi speaks with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and State Department Senior Adviser David Thorne - the former U.S. Ambassador to Italy - after they watched an Olympic men's beach volleyball game on the Copacobana beach in Rio de Janiero, Brazil, as the Secretary and his fellow members of the U.S. Presidential Delegation visit the Summer Olympics on August 6, 2016. [State Department Photo/ Public Domain]

Italian Prime Minister Renzi Speaks With Secretary Kerry As They Watch An Olympic Men’s Beach Volleyball Game
Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi speaks with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and State Department Senior Adviser David Thorne – the former U.S. Ambassador to Italy – after they watched an Olympic men’s beach volleyball game on the Copacobana beach in Rio de Janiero, Brazil, as the Secretary and his fellow members of the U.S. Presidential Delegation visit the Summer Olympics on August 6, 2016. [State Department Photo/ Public Domain]

Secretary Kerry and U.S. Ambassador Ayalde Watch An Olympic Beach Volleyball Game U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and U.S. Ambassador to Brazil Liliana Ayalde watch an Olympic men's beach volleyball game on the Copacobana beach in Rio de Janiero, Brazil, while they and their fellow members of the U.S. Presidential Delegation visit the Summer Olympics on August 6, 2016. [State Department Photo/ Public Domain]

Secretary Kerry and U.S. Ambassador Ayalde Watch An Olympic Beach Volleyball Game
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and U.S. Ambassador to Brazil Liliana Ayalde watch an Olympic men’s beach volleyball game on the Copacobana beach in Rio de Janiero, Brazil, while they and their fellow members of the U.S. Presidential Delegation visit the Summer Olympics on August 6, 2016. [State Department Photo/ Public Domain]

Secretary Kerry Plays with U.S. Women's Beach Volleyball Players U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry plays with U.S. Olympic women's beach volleyball players on the Copacobana beach in Rio de Janiero, Brazil, on August 6, 2016, as he and his fellow members of the U.S. Presidential Delegation attend the Summer Olympics. [State Department Photo/ Public Domain]

Secretary Kerry Plays with U.S. Women’s Beach Volleyball Players
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry plays with U.S. Olympic women’s beach volleyball players on the Copacobana beach in Rio de Janiero, Brazil, on August 6, 2016, as he and his fellow members of the U.S. Presidential Delegation attend the Summer Olympics. [State Department Photo/ Public Domain]


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I've traveled around the world to 88 countries as Secretary of State, representing the values that make us the proud, diverse, exceptional nation that we are. U.S. athletes are some of our finest Ambassadors. And I can’t think of anything that unifies people as much as the common spirit of sportsmanship. #TeamUSA put countless hours into training for these games, and they are an inspiration to everyone working towards a goal that at times feels impossible. They are proof when you work hard, set your mind to something, and never, ever give up, great things can happen. As Muhammad Ali said, "Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they've been given than to explore the power that they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It's an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It's a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing." Thanks for following along. – JK

A photo posted by U.S. Department of State (@statedept) on

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D/MR Higginbottom Swears In Mary Beth Leonard, New Ambassador to the African Union

Posted: 2:24 am ET

 

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Familiar Names For Foggy Bottom in a Potential Clinton White House

Posted: 3:01 am ET

The names on who might be coming or coming back to Foggy Bottom in a Clinton Administration are not unexpected. Ambassador Wendy R. Sherman, former Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs and Ambassador Nicholas Burns, also a former Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs have been with her through the primary season. The two were part of a group of former top government officials who issued a joint statement raising questions about Senator Bernie Sanders’ proposals for countering ISIS and dealing with Iran. Probably the only surprising name in this round is James Stavridis, a retired U.S. Navy admiral and former Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) who is the current dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.

Via Politico:

Secretary of State

For obvious reasons, this is seen as the job Clinton will think about most — potentially empowering the pick, or potentially leading to an extra level of oversight at Foggy Bottom from the West Wing. Clinton’s seen as being intrigued by having a person in the role who has experience in elected office, but there’s no obvious contender from the House and Senate (except for current Secretary of State John Kerry, whom people expect would leap at the chance to stay on, though probably would suffer from Clinton wanting to have her own pick in this job most of all). People at the State Department and elsewhere are pulling for Wendy Sherman, the former undersecretary of state for political affairs and a key player in the Iran nuclear deal, and Bill Burns, a career diplomat who was deputy secretary of state. Nick Burns is seen as being in the mix as well, a career foreign officer who rose to undersecretary of state for political affairs in Bush’s second term and has been a strong defender of Clinton in the campaign. Kurt Campbell, Clinton’s assistant secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, has expressed interest to several people. Strobe Talbott, the friend of the Clintons and a deputy secretary of state during Bill Clinton’s first term and now the president of the Brookings Institute, is also seen as a possibility. Or Clinton might go for a surprise like James Stavridis, the admiral who was the only nonpolitician to be vetted for her running mate.

Would be interesting to see who might be coming to Foggy Bottom in a potential Trump administration. GOP national security folks, all 121 of them, recently published an open letter  saying “… we are united in our opposition to a Donald Trump presidency.”

The letter was coordinated by Dr. Eliot A. Cohen, former Counselor of the Department of State (2007–8) under Secretary Rice, and Bryan McGrath, Managing Director of The FerryBridge Group, a defense consultancy. Lots of familiar names. All saying, “as committed and loyal Republicans, we are unable to support a Party ticket with Mr. Trump at its head. We commit ourselves to working energetically to prevent the election of someone so utterly unfitted to the office.”  These folks have effectively ruled themselves out from working in a Trump Administration.  Which begs the question, who are still left in the tent?

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Post-Brexit Britain: Cat Wars on Downing Street, Send Help!

Posted: 5:04 am ET

 

The last time we heard from Palmerston, the Chief Mouser  at Whitehall (@DiploMog), he was saying goodbye to Philip Hammond and waiting for his new boss, Boris Johnson.  Like any good public servant, he has a second Twitter account , the unofficial version, by the way.

It turned out that Palmerston and Larry the Cat of 10 Downing Street had a nasty encounter; well, a series of nasty encounters now. And there’s also new cat in the block. Take a look!

 

In real life, this isn’t funny. Photo journalist @PoliticalPics has documented the cat fights on Twitter and he is worried that without intervention, these cats are going to “kill each other.” These cats were adopted from Battersea Dogs and Cats home.  Larry was adopted in 2011 and Palmerston earlier this year. This past week, Gladstone  joined the crew. We hope these are not just PR cats and somebody is responsible for them.  Tweet to @SMcDonaldFCO and .

 

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US Embassy Burma: “Routine Security Drill” Triggers Bomb Scare in Yangon

Posted: 2:36 am ET

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US Embassy Havana: To Cuba, to Cuba — here are five things you should know before you go

Posted: 3:20 am ET

Are you planning a trip to Cuba? Here are five things you should know before you go; put together by US Embassy Havana:

 

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US Embassy Tashkent: OIG Report Plus What’s This About “Fun Community Policing”?

Posted: 3:13 am ET

 

The U.S. Embassy in Tashkent, Uzbekistan is a medium size post with a complement of 408 authorized staff which includes foreign national employees, locally hired Americans and 64 direct-hire Americans.  State/OIG released its inspection report of  US Embassy Tashkent last April. Given that the inspection in 2008 was a limited scope review– with focus on major areas of interest rather than examining all the items covered in a traditional inspection — it is surprising that the 2016 report, a traditional inspection conducted after 7 years  is only 4 pages longer than the 2008 report.  There are no discussion about morale (excerpt that bit about nepotism as being bad for morale), or spouse employment (no spouses looking for jobs?), or schools (no dependents go to school there?). What about the embassy Health Unit? Is it good, bad, non-existent?

Summary of Findings:

  • The Ambassador steers the United States-Uzbekistan engagement in constructive ways, including the signing of agreements on counter-narcotics and the U.S. Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act.
  •   Washington end-users uniformly expressed satisfaction with Political/Economic Section reporting that provides the information needed to understand the United States- Uzbekistan relationship.
  •   American and locally employed staff members in Tashkent described the Ambassador’s collaborative style, interest in a variety of views, and openness to suggestions, in keeping with the Department’s leadership principles.
  •   The Consular Section did not comply with non-immigrant visa adjudication review standards, visa referral management and referral procedures, and consular management control requirements.
  •   The Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations has not addressed the seismic risk by identifying suitable housing with the lowest possible risk to life safety as required by 15 Foreign Affairs Manual 252.6. The embassy has taken steps to prepare its staff for the aftermath of a major earthquake.
  •   The embassy’s social media outreach is limited by its reliance on English, rather than Russian- and Uzbek- language material.
  •   The reporting and supervisory relationships among the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regional office, its locally employed staff, the Political/Economic Section, and the Front Office are unresolved and contentious.
  •   Innovative Practice: The embassy produced a no-cost and reliable short message service for employees.

The IG report also includes a section labeled “Tashkent Initiative Worthy of Emulation” which is rather underwhelming. Like  —  we have totally not/not seen this set of activities done elsewhere before! Dear OIG inspection team, c’mon folks — really? Where have you been all this time?

Screen Shot 2016-07-06

 

Excerpts:

American and locally employed staff members in Tashkent described the Ambassador’s collaborative style, interest in a variety of views, and openness to suggestions, in keeping with the Department’s leadership principles.
[…]
The Ambassador is aware of her chief of mission responsibilities in accordance with 2 FAM 022.7. She expressed support for internal controls, reminding the staff that fraud and misconduct cannot be tolerated, and reissuing management notices concerning illegal currency exchange and gift acceptance. The embassy has made it clear that action will be taken in accordance with regulations against those who cannot meet ethical standards. In the 14 months prior to the inspection, seven locally employed staff members were dismissed for misconduct or unethical behavior.

Tone at the Top and Standards of Conduct | American and locally employed embassy staff members told OIG of the Ambassador’s collaborative style, interest in diverse views, and openness to suggestions, in keeping with the Department’s leadership principles in 3 Foreign Affairs Manual (l) 1214. In mission-wide town hall meetings and other fora, the Ambassador has stressed the five values she wants the Mission to exemplify: gratitude, teamwork, partnership, opportunity, and balance.

Lack of a Representation Plan and Uneven Spending | Embassy Tashkent expended approximately $13,000 of its $21,418 in FY 2015 representational funding in the last 2 weeks of the fiscal year.

Interagency Working Groups Not Active | Embassy interagency working groups met infrequently, if at all, reducing their effectiveness in coordinating U.S. Government programs and policies across agencies. Embassy officers told OIG that informal exchanges of information within the mission were sufficient. Chiefs of Mission are charged under 18 FAM 005.1-6b and 18 FAM 005.1-7f with promoting a culture of interagency problem solving and leveraging a wide range of U.S. Government specialized expertise and assets under common objectives. The Law Enforcement Working Group did not meet during FY 2015. Implementation of end-use monitoring for $49.6 million in armored vehicles was not coordinated among embassy offices that could benefit through their participation.

Relationship between Embassy and CDC Office Needs Improvement | The reporting and supervisory relationships among the CDC regional office at U.S. Consulate General Almaty and Embassy Tashkent’s CDC locally employed staff, Political/Economic Section, and Front Office are unresolved and contentious.

Embassy Does Not Use Record Emails | Embassy Tashkent and the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs exchange daily official- informal emails but never use record emails,as required in 5 FAM 443.2, even when the exchanges contain information that facilitates decision making and document policy formulation and execution. The embassy Front Office and the Political/Economic Section report that the State Messaging and Archive Retrieval Toolset (SMART), which is meant to record and retain record emails, is too cumbersome to use. Only the Consular Section uses record emails when sending reports on child abductions. Failure to use the SMART system hinders the Department’s ability to retain and retrieve records, as required by the Federal Records Act.

Political/Economic File Management Not in Accordance with Department and Federal Regulations | Embassy Tashkent does not enforce Department and Federal regulations on records management. The Political/Economic Section does not maintain centralized files. Officers have individual files based on their own filing systems that are maintained in personal folders. As a result, these files are not accessible to others and are not archived, retired, or readily retrievable if the action officer is absent or transfers.

Social Media Outreach in English, Not in the Languages of the Host Country | The embassy’s social media outreach is hampered by its lack of Russian- and Uzbek-language material and its reliance on English. Russian media is understandably pervasive in Uzbekistan. A 2010 survey conducted by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe found that 90 percent of the population spoke Uzbek and 57–70 percent spoke Russian. English is the main compulsory foreign language taught in schools, but only 1 percent of respondents to a survey of students, teachers, professors, and bureaucrats use and read English. However, as of October, 92 percent of embassy tweets and 100 percent of ambassadorial tweets sent in 2015 were in English, as were the majority of Facebook entries. Embassy officials said that a strategic decision had been made in the past to offer the embassy’s Facebook and other social media in English.

Non-Compliance with Consular Management Controls | In five areas, the embassy does not comply with management control requirements for overseas posts, as delineated in 7 FAH-1 H-630-660, “Consular Management Controls.” The FAH requires an Accountable Consular Officer (ACO), a Consular Systems Administrator (CSA), and a back-up for each.

Visa Referral Program Not Compliant with Visa Referral Systems Policy | The embassy did not comply with the visa referral management and referral procedures in the Worldwide Non-Immigrant Visa Referral Policy as described in 9 FAM Appendix K “Visa Referral Systems.” OIG found referral form or data entry errors in 39 (45 percent) of the 86 visa referral cases adjudicated in FY 2015. In 58 cases (67 percent), the case notes did not document properly the validity of the referral or the adjudicating officer’s decision. FAST officers adjudicated a total of 41 referral cases, including 33 cases that should have been adjudicated by the Consular Section Chief. The section’s annual validation study on 2014 referrals was 4 months overdue. These errors occurred because the embassy did not comply with the visa referral management and referral procedures. A non-compliant referral program inhibits the ability to identify individual instances or patterns of fraud or abuse.

Visa Adjudication Reviews are Not Compliant with Standards | The embassy does not comply with the non-immigrant visa adjudication review standards in 9 FAM 41.113 PN17 (Review of Visa Issuances) and 9 FAM 41.121 N2.3-7 (Internal Review of Refusals), which require that reviews be performed on the day of issuance or refusal, or as soon as possible thereafter. OIG examined FY 2015 adjudications through September 20, 2015. The adjudication reviews of visa issuances did not meet the review standards for 73 percent of the 219 work days on which visas were issued and for 76 percent of the 184 work days on which visas were refused. The Regional Consular Officer based in Frankfurt reported to the Bureau of Consular Affairs and the embassy that the Consular Section Chief had not conducted any reviews between December 12, 2014, and May 26, 2015. OIG found that the Consular Section Chief had not conducted any reviews between July 2, 2015, and September 20, 2015. Systematic, regular reviews of non-immigrant visa adjudications are an important management and instructional tool to maintain the highest professional standards of adjudications. Such reviews also ensure uniform and correct application of law and regulations and enhance U.S. border security. Absent such reviews, adjudicator training and uniformity of adjudications can be irregular and border security compromised.

Seismic Studies of Embassy Housing | Embassy personnel occupy eight residences that received seismic hazard rating of “Very Poor” and eight residences that received seismic ratings of “Poor” in a 2012 Bureau of Overseas Operations (OBO) study. Embassy personnel occupy 38 (of a total of 54) residences that have not been evaluated for seismic adequacy, as required by 15 FAM 252.6. Tashkent is located in an active seismic zone. An earthquake almost completely destroyed the city in 1966. The OBO Natural Hazard program categorizes Tashkent as has having a “very high” seismic risk. In accordance with 15 FAM 252.6d, embassies in high-risk seismic areas must address the seismic adequacy of residential units and seek housing that is the best suited for high-risk seismic areas. OBO has not addressed the findings of the 2012 study to reduce the seismic risk of the housing pool.

Read the whole report here: Inspection of Embassy Tashkent, Uzbekistan, March 2016 (PDF).

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A separate but related note, we received the following email in our inbox:

Uzbekistan not only has a politically repressive government but a one with a poor understanding of market economics. Uzbekistan pegs its currency, the soum, to the dollar resulting in a currency black market. While the official exchange rate is 3000 soum to a dollar, in reality it’s closer to 6500 and the gap keeps growing. Local prices of course reflect the black market rate.

The Embassy has decided to not allow American staff to use the exchange rate citing some sort of regulation. Not only that, but after a letter from the host government urging diplomats to use the official exchange rate, the ambassador asked the FMO [financial management officer] to monitor cashier withdrawals of employees to ensure they are not using the black market rate.

Fun community policing! Very Uzbek in style!

Well, there is indeed “some sort of regulation” on this.

According to the FAH, the Chief of Mission has the authority to require all U.S. Government employees to obtain their foreign currency through U.S. Government facilities when the Chief of Mission deems it necessary. Here’s the cite:

4 FAH-3 H-361.3-2  Compliance With Laws and Regulations
(CT:FMP-82;   09-04-2013)

Whenever accommodation exchange services are established, the Chief of Mission or designee takes actions necessary to assure that all accommodation exchange is performed in full compliance with U.S. Government and host government laws and regulations; and that all American Government personnel are familiar with the provisions in 3 FAM 4123 and 22 CFR 1203.735-206, Economic and Financial Activities of Employees Abroad.  The Chief of Mission has the authority to require all U.S. Government employees to obtain their foreign currency through U.S. Government facilities when the Chief of Mission deems it necessary in order to assure full compliance.

See more here.

Note that 3 FAM 4123.1 specifically prohibits a U.S. citizen employee, spouse, or family member from engaging in “transactions at exchange rates differing from local legally available rates, unless such transactions are duly authorized in advance by the Chief of Mission.”

3 FAM 4123.1  Prohibitions in Any Foreign Country
(TL:PER-491;   12-23-2003)
(Uniform State/USAID/Commerce/Foreign Service Corps-USDA)
(Applies to Foreign Service, Foreign Service National, and Civil Service)

A U.S. citizen employee, spouse, or family member is prohibited from engaging in the following activities while present in any foreign country:

(1)  Speculation in currency exchange;

(2)  Transactions at exchange rates differing from local legally available rates, unless such transactions are duly authorized in advance by the Chief of Mission;

(3)  Sales to unauthorized persons (whether at cost or for profit) of currency acquired at preferential rates through diplomatic or other restricted arrangements;

(4)  Transactions which entail the use of the diplomatic pouch or other official mail without official authorization;

(5)  Transfers of blocked funds in violation of U.S. foreign funds and assets control;

(6)  Independent and unsanctioned private transactions which involve an employee as an individual in violation of applicable currency control regulations of the foreign government; and

(7)  Except as part of official duties, acting as an intermediary in the transfer of private funds from persons in one country to persons in another country, including the United States.

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Related items:

OIG Limited Scope Review – US Embassy Uzbekistan 2008 (PDF)

Inspection of Embassy Tashkent, Uzbekistan, March 2016 (PDF)