Top US diplomat for Europe says sorry for cursing the EU

Published: February 7, 2014
US State Department Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland shakes hands with Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych in Kiev on Feb 6, 2014. PHOTO: AFP

US State Department Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland shakes hands with Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych in Kiev on Feb 6, 2014. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON: Washington’s new top diplomat for Europe, Victoria Nuland, apologised on Thursday to EU counterparts after she was caught cursing about the European response to the crisis in Ukraine in a bugged phone call.

“F*** the EU,” Nuland allegedly says in what appeared to be a recent phone call with US ambassador to Kiev, Geoff Pyatt, which was somehow intercepted and uploaded onto YouTube accompanied by Russian captions.

US officials, while not denying such a conversation took place, refused to go into details, and pointed the finger at Russia for allegedly bugging the diplomats’ phones.

“Let me convey that she has been in contact with her EU counterparts, and of course has apologised,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

While Psaki said she had no independent details of how the conversation was captured and uploaded onto the social networking site, she added: “Certainly we think this is a new low in Russian tradecraft.”

White House spokesman Jay Carney alleged that the fact that it had been “tweeted out by the Russian government, it says something about Russia’s role.”

Nuland, who took over late last year as assistant secretary for European affairs, and Pyatt appear to discuss President Viktor Yanukovych’s offer last month to make opposition leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk the new prime minister and Vitaly Klitschko, deputy prime minister. Both men turned the offer down.

Nuland, who in December went down to Independence Square in Kiev in a show of support for the demonstrators, adds she has also been told that the UN chief Ban Ki-moon is about to appoint a former Dutch ambassador to Kiev, Robert Serry, as his representative to Ukraine.

“That would be great I think to help glue this thing and have the UN glue it and you know, fuck the EU,” she says, in apparent frustration at policy differences.

“We’ve got to do something to make it stick together, because you can be pretty sure that if it does start to gain altitude the Russians will be working behind the scenes to try to torpedo it,” Pyatt replies.

Psaki sought to downplay any tensions with the European Union over Ukraine, which has been rocked by weeks of protests by pro-democracy protestors.

Demonstrators were angered by Yanukovych’s sudden decision last year to abandon moves to sign an association accord with the EU, and instead solicit a financial aid package from former Soviet master, Russia.

Psaki said the United States, which is mulling possible sanctions on Ukraine if it cracks down on the protests, has “been working closely” with the EU.

“If we have frustrations, we express those privately as well. But it’s important to know how closely we work with them and how aligned we are on this issue.”

She also disputed Russian allegations that Washington was meddling in Kiev’s internal politics.

Nuland is heard saying of Klistcho, “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.”

“I think Yats is the guy who’s got the economic experience, he’s got the governing  experience,” she adds.

But Psaki said it should be “no surprise that US officials talk about issues” adding it was a “private diplomatic conversation.”

“It doesn’t change the fact that it’s up to the people on the ground. It is up to the people of Ukraine to determine what the path forward is.”

The phone tapping was an ironic twist on a spying scandal which soured relations with the EU last year, after it was revealed that US intelligence agencies had been gathering data from European leaders’ phones.

Nuland meanwhile met Thursday in Kiev with Yanukovych, who told her that he wanted to quickly adopt constitutional changes called for by pro-Western demonstrators.

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