"To jaw jaw is always better than to war war" - Churchill 1954
Please see the earlier post Julian assange ~ Quo Vadis
Former diplomat - Sir Brian Barder KCMG - has no doubt that a threat to withdraw diplomatic status from the Embassy was at least implicit in an Aide Memoire in which the British government set out its view of the legal position and claimed a right to arrest Assange in the Embassy. See the post on the Brian Barder blog - "Assange: the FCO seems to have lost the plot - here's what to do." Part of the aide memoire states:
- We must reiterate that we consider the continued use of the diplomatic premises in this way incompatible with the Vienna Convention and unsustainable, and that we have made clear the serious implications of same for our diplomatic relations.
- You should be aware that there is a basis in law in the UK (the Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act 1987) that would permit us to take steps to arrest Mr Assange within the current premises of the embassy.
- We sincerely hope that such a point is not reached, but if you cannot resolve the presence of Mr Assange on your premises, that route is open to us.
As argued in Julian Assange ~ Quo Vadis, it is debatable whether in the context of Julian Assange the Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act 1987 can be properly interpreted in the way suggested by the second of those bullet points. I do not think it does but the answer to that could only be found by lengthy and costly legal action which would inevitably end up in the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom. (I will leave aside for now any possibility of the matter being referred to the International Court of Justice. Only States may be parties to cases there - Art. 34 of the Court's statute). Also left aside is any possible conciliation or arbitration under the Vienna Convention on the Compulsory Settlement of Disputes. A particularly thorough article on the inviolability of diplomatic premises is at European Journal of International Law - "The Julian Assange affair: May the UK terminate the Diplomatic status of Ecuador's Embassy?"
Whatever view may be taken in the UK of this aide memoire, a very serious view of it is being taken by the Organisation of American States (OAS).
The Permanent Council of the Organization of American States (OAS) has decided to convene a meeting of Foreign Ministers to discuss the situation between Ecuador and the United Kingdom - see OAS announcement.
The resolution, adopted with 23 votes in favor, 3 against, 5 abstentions and 3 absent, convenes the Foreign Ministers of the OAS Member States to meet on Friday, August 24 at 11:00 EDT (16:00 GMT) at the headquarters of the organization in Washington, DC. The purpose of the meeting will be to "address the situation between Ecuador and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland regarding the inviolability of the diplomatic premises of Ecuador in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in accordance with international law, and to agree on appropriate measures to be adopted."
It seems clear enough that any attempt by the UK to violate the Ecuadorean Embassy is likely to have very significant political repercussions.
The Guardian 17th August published Julian Assange extradition: Ecuador 'willing to co-operate' with Britain
Vienna Convention Article 22(2) - to protect the Embassy. However, the article quotes a "senior Ecuadorean source" as saying that the increase in Police presence is "an absolutely intimidating and unprecedented use of police" designed to show the British government's desire to "go in with a strong hand".
However this may be, the same source is quoted as indicating that Ecuador has proposed an undertaking between the UK and Sweden that, once Julian Assange has faced the Swedish investigation, he will not be extradited to a third country: specifically the US. Clearly, there are tensions between the Ecuadoreans and the UK government but, for now, it remains "jaw jaw."
On 16th August, Sweden's news in English reported that Police had actually entered the Embassy. As things stand, they could only lawfully do this with the clear agreement of the Ambassador.