Russia Summons US Diplomat over Plans to Search Trade Mission Complex in Washington

Russia’s foreign ministry has summoned a US diplomat in Moscow to hand him a note of protest over plans to conduct searches in Russia’s trade mission complex in Washington, which should soon be closed, the ministry said in a statement on Saturday.

Washington on Thursday ordered the Russian consulate in San Francisco, and two buildings in Washington and New York that house trade missions to be shut down by Saturday, in a retaliatory move after the Kremlin demanded the US slash staff numbers at its Russian diplomatic missions.

It said it has summoned Anthony F. Godfrey, deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow according to the embassy web site.

The ministry called the planned “illegal inspection” of Russian diplomatic housing an “unprecedented aggressive action”, which could be used by the U.S. special services for “anti-Russian provocations” by the way of “planting compromised items”.

The closure by Sept. 2 of the consulate and buildings in Washington and New York that house Russian trade missions is the latest in tit-for-tat actions by the two countries that have helped push relations to a new post-Cold War low.

The fresh diplomatic spat is the latest twist in tortured ties between the US and Russia.

US-Russian ties have only gotten worse since Kremlin’s seizure of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.

The West slapped punishing sanctions on Russia over its meddling in its ex-Soviet neighbor, sparking a revenge embargo from Moscow against agricultural products.

Chad Accuses Qatar of Destabilizing Regional Security, Expels Diplomats

Chad is shuttering Qatar’s embassy and giving its diplomats 10 days to leave the country, accusing the Gulf Arab state of trying to destabilize the central African nation via its northern neighbor Libya, it said on Wednesday.

According to Reuters, it is not the first African state to move against Qatar following its rift with other Gulf states including the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.

Senegal said this week that it had reinstated its ambassador to Qatar after having recalled him three months ago, in a bid to encourage a peaceful resolution to the feud.

“In order to safeguard peace and security in the region, Chad calls on Qatar to cease all actions that could undermine its security as well as those of the countries of the Lake Chad basin and the Sahel,” the foreign ministry statement said.

It did not provide any details to support the accusation. The statement from Chad’s foreign ministry added that it would close its diplomatic mission in Doha and recall all personnel.

Qatari officials were not immediately available to comment.

In Libya, after Muammar Gaddafi’s downfall in 2011 a flood of weapons from state arsenals into the hands of extremist groups who then pushed south into Africa’s Sahel nations where they launch attacks on military and civilian targets.

Today in Libya, the UAE, along with Egypt and Saudi Arabia, has backed anti-extremist former army commander Khalifa Haftar, appointed by a government and parliament based in the east. Qatar has supported rival ultra-hardline factions in western Libya.

Putin Insists to Cooperate With Trump in South Syria for ‘Israel’s Benefit’


Moscow, Beirut, Ankara- Despite the risky deterioration witnessed at the US-Russian level after the US Congress voted last week to slap new sanctions on Russia, Moscow asserted on Monday its insistence to cooperate with Washington in the Syrian file, particularly the implementation of a truce in southwest Syria.

“The creation of a de-escalation zone in southern Syria as an example of a concrete result of (a US-Russian) working together,” Russian President Vladimir Putin told the Rossiya 1 TV channel.

He said the step does not only serve the interests of Syria, or Russia, but also benefits the interests of Israel and Jordan, which means it also benefits the US.

“We take into consideration that this area holds American interests, and that Israel is the main US ally in the region,” he said.

On Sunday, Putin ordered 755 American diplomats to leave the Russian territories in response to the US vote last Thursday to slap new sanctions on Moscow.

The Russian President also ruled out any positive developments in the relations with Washington anytime soon.

Last Friday, the White House said that US President Donald Trump would sign the sanctions bill against Russia.

“We work and achieve results even now, even in this rather complicated situation,” Putin said.

For his part, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said that improvement was witnessed at the level of the Syrian crisis due to the joint Russian-US cooperation.

“At the Syrian level, we have been lately working (with the Americans) in a more positive image,” he said.

Meanwhile, Turkey expressed its fury on Monday over the remarks of the US special envoy for the global coalition against ISIS, Brett McGurk, who linked Ankara to some terrorist organizations in Syria.

“The approach by some of our partners to send tens of thousands of tons of weapons and looking the other way as these foreign fighters came into Syria may not have been the best approach,” McGurk said.

Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesperson Huseyin Muftuoglu described the comments of the US special envoy as “provocative.”

Putin Orders 755 US Diplomats to Leave


Moscow- Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered on Sunday 755 American diplomats to leave the Russian territories in response to the US Senate vote last Thursday to slap new sanctions on Moscow.

The Russian President also ruled out any positive developments in the relations with Washington anytime soon.

In an interview with the Rossiya 1 TV channel, Putin said: “We’ve been waiting for quite a long time that maybe something would change for the better, we had hopes that the situation would change. But it looks like, it’s not going to change in the near future.”

Putin announced that 755 American diplomats would have to leave Russia after the Russian Foreign Ministry has demanded the US Mission to Russia last Friday to limit the total mission’s staffing to 455 employees by September 1.

The Russian president also said the “American side has made a move with unlawful restrictions, attempts to influence other states of the world, including our allies, who are interested in developing and keeping relations with Russia.”

Putin added that more than one thousand diplomats are still working at the American diplomatic missions in Russia.

Meanwhile, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told ABC’s This Week that the US sanctions bill was ‘weird and unacceptable.”

Ryabkov warned that “If the US side decides to move further towards further deterioration, we will answer. We will respond in kind. We will mirror this. We will retaliate.”

Last Friday, the White House said that US President Donald Trump would sign the sanctions bill against Russia.

The Russian official also said: “We have a very rich toolbox at our disposal,” without elaborating what additional measures Moscow would take in the future.

In a separate development, Putin also signed Sunday a legislation prohibiting the use of Internet proxy services, including virtual private networks, or VPNs and cracked down on the anonymous use of instant messaging services.

Kuwait Expels Iranian Diplomats After Escape of ‘Al-Abdali Cell’ Members


Kuwait, London- The Kuwaiti Foreign Ministry summoned on Thursday Iran’s ambassador Alireza Enayati to inform him about its decision to expel 15 Iranian diplomats and to shut down the Iranian cultural mission with other affiliated offices in the country.

The decision came after 16 terrorist suspects belonging to Al-Abdali terror cell were capable of escaping to Iran by the sea in speedboats.

Al-Abdali cell includes 26 Kuwaitis and one Iranian who were arrested over spying for the sake of Iran and Lebanon’s “Hezbollah.”

In August 2015, Kuwait said it had smashed the cell and seized arms, ammunition, and explosives from them.

On Thursday, the Kuwaiti government failed to accuse the Iranian authorities of being directly involved in the escape of the 16 suspects.

However, an official at the Kuwaiti Foreign Ministry said: “Kuwait City decided to reduce its diplomatic staff in Tehran, close down some of its technical offices and to freeze any activities involving joint committees between the two countries following the ruling by Kuwait’s top court in a case known as the Abdali cell.”

The Gulf States backed on Thursday the Kuwaiti steps.

An official source at the Saudi Foreign Ministry expressed the Kingdom’s support to all the measures taken by Kuwait against Iran’s diplomatic mission in the country.

However, Iran on Thursday responded to the Kuwaiti decision by summoning the country’s Charge d’Affaires and informed him of the Islamic Republic’s protest to the decision by Kuwait to reduce the number of Iranian diplomats in the country.

Iran also threatened it would take similar measures to protest the Kuwaiti decision.

Bahram Qassemi, the spokesman of Iran’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement Thursday: “It is very regrettable that under the existing sensitive conditions in the region, instead of trying to reduce unjustified tensions…, Kuwaiti officials have answered those incitements and made Iran the target of their fictitious accusations.”

U.S. Fires 35 Russian Diplomats, Sanctions 9 Entities


Washington – Outgoing U.S. President Barack Obama announced on Thursday a series of measures against Russia in the wake of Moscow’s intervention in the U.S. presidential elections by declaring 35 diplomats as “persona non grata.”

“These actions are not the sum total of our response to Russia’s aggressive activities. We will continue to take a variety of actions at a time and place of our choosing, some of which will not be publicized,” Obama said.

He said the actions follow repeated private and public warnings that Washington have issued to the Russian government, and are a necessary and appropriate response to efforts to harm U.S. interests in violation of established international norms of behavior. Obama’s comments came in a statement from Hawaii, where he is on vacation.

Obama, a Democrat, had promised consequences after U.S. intelligence officials blamed Russia for hacks intended to influence the 2016 election.

On Thursday, the White House expelled 35 Russian diplomats and closed two Russian compounds in New York and Maryland.

The White House also sanctioned nine entities and individuals: two Russian intelligence agencies, four officers of its largest intelligence agency, GRU, and three companies that supported GRU’s operations.

A U.S. senior official told Reuters that the Washington was also closing two Russian compounds in New York and Maryland that were used by Russian personnel for “intelligence-related purposes.”

The Russians have 72 hours to leave the United States, the official said. Access to the two compounds will be denied to all Russian officials as of noon on Friday.

The U.S. official declined to name the Russian diplomats who would be affected, although it is understood that Russia’s ambassador to the United States, Sergei Kislyak, will not be one of those expelled.

Syrian Opposition Moves to Replace Negotiators with Dissident Diplomats

The decision made by Mohammed Alloush, the chief negotiator for the High Negotiations Committee (HNC) that was formed at the Riyadh conference, reveals the Syrian opposition’s desire to change the composition of the negotiating team to conform to the changes taking place on the ground in Syria.

Sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that the HNC is inclined to give key positions in the negotiating delegation to “dissident diplomats who have the necessary expertise to move the negotiation process forward”.

A spokesman for the HNC explained that the committee would meet in Riyadh within the next 10 days to decide on the composition of the negotiating delegation and its work in Geneva, and indicated that changes will be made to the delegation.

Meanwhile, the Turkish Foreign Minister Mouloud Jawish Ihsanoglu said yesterday that Ankara offered to carry out a joint special operation with Washington against extremists in Syria but without the involvement of Kurdish forces that are supported by Washington but considered by Turkey as “terrorist” forces. Washington did not immediately comment on the offer.

On the other hand, the Saudi Minister of Foreign Affairs Adel Al-Jubeir confirmed yesterday that there is an imbalance in the international community that is impeding it from arriving at a common solution to the Syrian crisis. At a press conference with the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini in Riyadh yesterday, he said that there is an international consensus that a political solution in Syria should be based on Geneva 1 and added that military support for the Syrian opposition continues to be provided.

Opinion: A Crisis Without Diplomats and Mediators

This is the worst phase of confrontation between Saudi Arabia and Iran in thirty years and therefore the stances of solidary countries like the UAE, Bahrain and Sudan to shut down and downgrade their diplomatic missions with Iran bears an important meaning for Riyadh. Tehran resorts to the use of violence and thuggery against governments that differ with it and Riyadh responds with its political weight and its international relations.

At the time when smoke from the scorched Saudi embassy in Tehran was still rising, the spokesman for the Iranian foreign ministry expressed his surprise at the Saudis for withdrawing their mission and closing the burnt building! He said that there is no justification for Saudi’s behaviour as though he was a spokesman for a peaceful country like Scandinavia despite the Saudi embassy burning in front of the eyes of Iranian police who were content to observe.

Saudi Arabia did well to close its embassy and recall its diplomats because the Iranian authorities have always targeted embassies and diplomatic missions in every crisis, and its history is amongst the worst countries in the world. Saudis remember the awful assassination of a Saudi diplomat in Karachi by an Iranian man four years ago and Pakistan is still demanding his handover. In addition to this, Iran orchestrated a bomb in the Saudi embassy in Beirut, and US security previously thwarted an Iranian plot to assassinate the then Saudi ambassador in Washington who is now the Minister of Foreign Affairs Adel Al Jubeir; the defendant was convicted and sent to prison. The former Saudi ambassador to Lebanon Abdulaziz Khoja was subjected to threats which forced him to return, “demonstrators” killed a Saudi employee at the embassy in Iran by throwing him from the third floor and another Saudi diplomat was attacked and his eyes gouged out.

In serious crises, diplomats are all important. However, Iranian authorities did not give ambassadors an opportunity to work. The burning of the Saudi embassy in Tehran was in fact carried out by employees of one of the security forces claiming that they were demonstrators. No one believes the claims that they were protestors because this has happened many times. Every time Iran differs with a country, that country’s embassy is surrounded by demonstrations, stones are thrown at it, it is invaded, employees are attacked and property is looted.