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State Department eases restrictions for diplomats abroad

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State Department eases restrictions for diplomats abroad

WASHINGTON – This was known at the State Department as the Benghazi Hangover: strict security protocols to protect US officials abroad from terrorism that, in practice, limited their interactions with people in the countries where they served .

Nine years after a US ambassador and three other Americans were killed during a riot in Benghazi, Libya, the State Department is easing some sanctions that made routine diplomacy more difficult during the coronavirus pandemic and increased crime. was increased.

The changes were announced Wednesday as part of a reassessment of the department – an exercise to each secretary of state – that will seek more input from employees on policy, expand promotion and retention efforts and upgrade aging technology systems. .

But the plan is not without risk. As recently as a year ago, the Trump administration was preparing to close the US embassy in Iraq over concerns that it would be targeted by Iranian-backed militias, which in December 2019 nearly launched a deadly drone strike on the walls of the diplomatic compound. was against them to retaliate for. The fighting Trump administration also closed the US consulate in Basra in southern Iraq in 2018 fearing it was under similar threat. This led to the withdrawal of diplomats from the US embassy in Caracas, Venezuela, as tensions escalated with President Nicolas Maduro in 2019.

And this August, after the Taliban captured the capital, Kabul, and international diplomats fled after a 20-year war, the Biden administration evacuated the US embassy in Afghanistan.

Foreign Minister Antony J. “A world with zero risk is not a world in which American diplomacy can function,” Blinken said in a speech Wednesday at the Foreign Service Institute. “We have to accept the risk and manage it tactfully.”

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Mr Blinken said employees had complained that “it is more difficult for them to do person-to-person diplomacy on the ground than it is necessary.”

He acknowledged that the security measures had in some cases put US diplomats at a disadvantage as the United States competes with China and Russia for global influence. “Other countries are expanding their diplomatic presence around the world far more easily,” Mr Blinken said.

China is already looking to fill the void in Afghanistan that was created by the US departure in August. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi met with senior Taliban officials on Wednesday and urged the United States to advance its diplomacy to avoid a humanitarian disaster in Afghanistan.

The evacuation from Kabul caused a sharp drop in the morale of the thousands of American diplomats he had worked for, but also left behind thousands of Afghans who had relied on the United States to provide stability.

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An internal review of the evacuation – when more than 120,000 diplomats, foreign officials and Afghans flew out of the country in two weeks in August – continues at the State Department.

“We will not miss this opportunity to learn and do better,” said Mr. Blinken.

It is not clear when this process will be completed. Congress is eager for answers about the hasty withdrawal, which the Pentagon said has left more US citizens behind than the State Department.

“How can we finally say that the withdrawal has made us better equipped diplomatically to face other challenges?” Republican Senator Todd Young of Indiana asked Brian P. McCain, the Department of State’s deputy secretary of management, during a hearing on Capitol Hill shortly before Mr. Blinken’s speech.

Mr McConn described a “strong sense of mission” among diplomats who were sent to Kabul to help Afghans trying to get on military evacuation flights ahead of the US withdrawal on 30 August. But he also noted the emotional toll of the experience.

“There’s a range of emotions about what was invested and what was lost,” said Mr McCann.

Michael Crowley Contributed reporting.

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