A senior U.S. State Department official, Victoria Nuland, has apologized to the European Union after using an expletive while discussing the EU's diplomatic role in Ukraine's political conflict. Her controversial comment became public in an Internet video of an intercepted phone call. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Assistant Secretary of State Nuland was in Ukraine this week to meet President Viktor Yanukovych and opposition figures, as the standoff there between the government and protesters continues.
In a phone call that was apparently bugged and posted on the Internet, Nuland scoffed at the European Union's position to her colleague, U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt.
“… that would be great, I think, to help glue this thing and to have the U.N. help glue it, and, you know, [expletive - beeped out] the EU,” she said.
In another excerpt, Nuland appears to suggest one of the Ukrainian opposition leaders, Vitaly Klitschko, should not be included in any future government.
“So I don’t think Klitsch should go into the government. I don’t think it’s necessary. I don’t think it’s a good idea,” she said.
The assistant secretary of state later apologized to the EU but declined to answer reporters’ questions on the phone call. She did however, describe the apparent bugging as "pretty good tradecraft." U.S. officials have implied Russia may be involved in leaking the recording.
Responding to the leaked remarks, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Nuland’s comment on the behavior of Europeans is unacceptable. He added, "There is no space for criticisms about our conduct regarding Ukraine. Our attitude is very cautious and well thought. There is room for discussion about sanctions, and we are carrying these discussions on."
The protests in Ukraine erupted in November after President Yanukovych pulled out of a trade deal with the EU, opting instead to sign a loan and energy agreement with Russia.
Since then, politicians from the United States and the European Union have visited Kyiv several times. The Western allies had appeared to be working in tandem, says Ian Bond of the Center for European Reform, a policy institute in London.
“It seems to me that the EU has actually done a pretty good job in Ukraine so far and that on the whole the EU and the U.S. have worked together quite well. But I suspect that for many American diplomats the problem with the EU is that it works very slowly.”
On the streets of Brussels there was a mixed reaction to the diplomatic dispute.
Resident Fiona Chevalier said that as a European citizen, she feels frustrated. “It saddens me that the United States has such a low image of Europe,” she said.
Brussels resident Marc Botenga said the contempt for the European Union was not a surprise. But, he said, it's not very democratic to discuss what the government of another country should be.
The original Internet posting of the phone call has been traced to Russia.
Moscow denies intercepting the communication. But analysts say the leak will do little to improve the already frosty relations between the Kremlin and the West.