Foreign Office makes diplomatic push with string of new embassies
New British embassies are to be opened in El Salvador, Kyrgyzstan, Madagascar, Somalia and Southern Sudan as part of a radical redrawing of Britain's international diplomatic map.
The Foreign Secretary will use the first anniversary of the Coalition Government today to outline what he termed "the biggest strategic diplomatic advance by Britain in decades". He revealed details yesterday to a meeting in London of hundreds of British ambassadors and high commissioners, who were told of major changes to their network of embassies and consulates abroad.
The new strategy, announced in the Commons today, will be partly funded by projected cuts of £100m from running costs and another £40m from the budget for Foreign Office and British Council programmes. The initiative will include additional staff being sent to the emerging powers as well as the "Arab Spring" states of the Middle East and opening embassies in Africa, central Asia and Latin America.
Consulates will be shut in France, Germany, Spain and Italy. Foreign Office sources insisted consular services in those countries can be provided by embassies and trade offices would operate from business centres.
Further savings are expected from Afghanistan – with the handover of security to the Karzai government starting in July, the numbers of staff can be scaled back.
Among the locations for new embassies, El Salvador has been chosen for its relatively healthy economy and "friendliness" towards Britain; Turkmenistan has its mineral wealth and a strategic position in a volatile region; and Southern Sudan recently seceded from Khartoum.
The UK will also establish a presence in Madagascar, which is on a democratic path, possesses untapped natural resources and a growing tourist industry; and Somalia, which has become a violent centre of Islamist insurgency. Plans to open an embassy in Mogadishu depend on security improving.
Missions in the Middle East and north Africa, such as Tunisia, will have enlarged missions. The embassy in Tripoli will be enlarged if and when Muammar Gaddafi departs. Britain has a team of 20 diplomatic and military personnel in Benghazi, where the opposition administration is based, and this, too, is expected to be augmented.
The overthrow of dictatorships in some Arab states and the emergence of pro-democratic movements has opened up political and commercial opportunities.
Around 50 additional staff will be sent to China and 30 to India. The Foreign Secretary is expected to tell MPs that it is essential for the UK to keep bolstering relations with the two countries and there will be a focus on dialogue relating to trade, terrorist threats and the environment.
Mr Hague told diplomats yesterday: "We want to promote the long-term interests of Britain as well as to make the right decisions about immediate challenges, and we want to extend and strengthen Britain's influence overseas... By 2015 we must aim to be a Foreign Office that is lean and efficient but configured to match the realities of the 21st century."
Senior diplomats who attended yesterday's meeting broadly agreed that cutbacks in some areas were inevitable if the Government wanted to carry out a diplomatic drive in economically straitened times.
However, one senior official warned: "We are told that a lot of this is based on being in place to plug into the geopolitical landscape of the future. But what has happened, especially in the Arab world, shows it is extremely difficult to predict what can happen in the short term let alone the long term. We are seeing very much a shifting scene."
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