EU insult: Careless talk requires a diplomatic reassignment

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The appearance on the Internet last week of a recorded phone conversation between two State Department officials on who should become prime minister of Ukraine is an embarrassing reflection on U.S. diplomacy under President Barack Obama.

The Jan. 25 conversation, which also included profanity aimed at the European Union, was between Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria J. Nuland and Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey R. Pyatt. The talk dealt with whom the United States wants Ukraine President Viktor F. Yanukovych to choose as prime minister and contained candid comments on the merits of the various possibilities.

In the first place, the Ukrainian president’s choice for prime minister is none of America’s business (nor Russia’s, for that matter).

Second, in the course of the conversation, Ms. Nuland, a former State Department spokesperson, used a four-letter word for an anatomical impossibility that she said could be done to the European Union. Yet good U.S. relations with the EU are her highest priority as the department’s head of European affairs. How does she face EU officials in the future after making this vulgar insult?

Third, in a world where spying is not only discussed daily but is also a major sore point between the United States and Europe, how could she and Mr. Pyatt have such a raw and candid talk on an unsecured phone line? At the moment, Ukraine is trying to decide between pursuing EU membership and remaining close to Russia, its traditional posture.

An obvious solution to the problem, one that could help heal the new abrasions between the United States and Europe, is to transfer Ms. Nuland to an assignment where she would no longer be dealing with Europeans. One way or the other, she needs to go.

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