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Britain to shift diplomats from Europe in shake-up

Email|Print| Text size + By David Stringer
Associated Press / March 5, 2008

LONDON - Britain needs a radical diplomatic shake-up and will move scores of staff from Europe to developing countries, Foreign Secretary David Miliband said yesterday.

Miliband said staff will increasingly be based outside of traditional embassies - many working as "laptop diplomats" - and will focus on combating climate change, nuclear proliferation, and terrorism.

Britain's "future footprint is likely to be heavier in the developing world and in some of the most far-flung, difficult, and important places," Miliband told a private meeting of ambassadors and diplomats based in 160 countries.

He said Britain will not retreat into isolationism, but instead attempt to develop its global ties.

"We've decided to move some of our policy staff out of Europe and into Asia, the Middle East, and other parts of the world. This doesn't mean Europe matters less. It's where we live, and it will always be fundamental to British interests," Miliband said, according to a text of his speech.

While the world's balance of power is moving from West to East, some have overstated the decline of the United States as the world's superpower, he told the audience.

"In economic terms, and even more so in military terms, the US will have at least another generation as the global superpower," Miliband said. "Nevertheless, this century may come to be known as the Asian century."

Miliband said the United States remains Britain's most important ally, but acknowledged links with a host of other countries are becoming increasingly important.

"On climate change: South Africa, Japan, and Saudi Arabia will be crucial to getting an ambitious global deal. On counterterrorism, Pakistan is a critical day-to-day partner. On a global trade deal, Europe needs Brazil's support," he said.

To succeed in future years, British diplomats must understand other nations' "interests, power structures, and culture better than anyone else," Miliband said. Embassies should have influence and contacts ranging from grass-roots groups to presidents, he said.

"We should develop a global reputation for being the generator of new ideas to global problems," he said.

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