Friday, June 30, 2006

Condi Iraq discussion caught on tape

For a fascinating look at diplomacy in action, check out this report from the Washington Post.

The official State Department version is that "there was absolutely no friction whatsoever" between Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov during a meeting of foreign ministers in Moscow on Thursday.

But a recording of the ministers' private lunch, made when an audio link into the room was accidentally left on, showed that "Condi" and "Sergei" -- as they called each other -- had several long and testy exchanges over Iraq.

For example, here's what Rice said in response to Russian concerns about security at diplomatic missions:

"Urgent methods are being taken to provide security for diplomats," Rice said. The sentence "implies they are not being taken, and you know on a fairly daily basis we lose soldiers, and I think it would be offensive to suggest that these efforts are not being made."

Lavrov countered that the sentence was not intended to criticize but was "just a statement of fact, I believe."

"I don't believe security is fine in Iraq, and I don't believe in particular that security at foreign missions is okay," he said. He suggested shortening the sentence to emphasize "the need for improved security for diplomatic missions."

"Sergei, there is a need for improvement of security in Iraq, period," Rice said in a hard voice. "The problem isn't diplomatic missions. The problem is journalists and civilian contractors and, yes, diplomats as well."

Just in passing, this -- along with the recent cable from the U.S. ambassador describing the security situation in Baghdad -- should explode the "everything is fine in Iraq" mantra chanted by war supporters.

But mostly, it shows how bluntly diplomats speak behind closed doors. And it gives me increased respect for Rice.

The punchline:

Reporters traveling with Rice transcribed the tape of the private luncheon but did not tell Rice aides about it until after a senior State Department official, briefing reporters on condition of anonymity as usual, assured them that "there was absolutely no friction whatsoever" between the two senior diplomats.

Once the flabbergasted official learned of the tape, he continued the briefing. He paused repeatedly, asking before describing a discussion whether reporters had heard it.

Diplomacy is like sausage: you don't want to know how it's made. But I enjoy an unfiltered glimpse now and then. It gives me greater confidence in my government officials when I see them acting honorably in unguarded moments.

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