US plays down leaked call; Merkel furious
Kiev, February 8, 2014
A top US diplomat tried to play down the damage to Washington's diplomacy in Ukraine from a leaked telephone call on Friday, but German Chancellor Angela Merkel called an obscene remark about the EU "absolutely unacceptable."
US officials blamed Moscow for the Internet leak of recordings of Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and the US ambassador in Kiev discussing a possible future government for Ukraine, where Washington and Brussels back anti-Kremlin demonstrators.
On Friday Nuland tried to limit the diplomatic fall-out from her comment. "I am not going to comment on private diplomatic conversations. But it was pretty impressive tradecraft. The audio was extremely clear," she told reporters during a visit to Kiev.
She said she did not foresee damage to relations with opposition leaders, saying they "know exactly where we stand in respect of a non-violent solution to the problem."
Of relations with Russia, she said Washington and Moscow had "very deep, very broad and complex" discussions on a range of international issues including Iran and "frank and comradely discussions" on Ukraine.
Western officials described the leaks as a throwback to the cloak-and-dagger tactics of the Cold War, apparently aimed as much at sowing discord among Western allies as at discrediting the opposition in Ukraine, a country of 46 million people on the verge of bankruptcy, torn between East and West.
In the call, Nuland is heard using an expletive to tell the US ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt, it would be better if a new Ukrainian government is backed by the United Nations than the EU," she says.
US officials did not deny the authenticity of the recording and said Nuland apologized to EU colleagues for the comment.
Angela Merkel, already furious with Washington for several months over reports that US officials bugged her own phone, found Nuland's remarks "totally unacceptable", a spokeswoman for the German chancellor said.
Merkel also expressed support for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who heads the bloc's Ukraine policy.
In a separate leaked recording, an Ashton aide is overheard complaining about the United States for telling Ukrainian opposition members that Brussels was "soft" in its reluctance to impose measures such as sanctions to hurt the pro-Russian government.
Nuland met President Viktor Yanukovich in Kiev on Thursday before the Ukrainian leader flew off to meet President Vladimir Putin at the Olympics in Russia.-Reuters
More INTERNATIONAL NEWS Stories
- Alibaba plans US listing in third-quarter
- Lost airliner was diverted deliberately: Malaysian PM
- Saudi demands Qatar shut down Al Jazeera
- Labour stalwart Benn dies aged 88
- Bahrain boat show postponed over development work
- Korean steel maker Posco set for revamp
- Harsh winter hits US consumer sentiment
- Sanctions set as Russia presses on with Crimea takeover
- India inflation at nine-month low
- Missing plane: It's deliberate act says Malaysia PM
- Lost plane 'flown deliberately toward Andamans'
- Gold hits fresh six-month highs
- Iran not open for business, affirms Kerry
- Barclays 'to cut thousands of jobs'
- Jet sent 'pings' after going missing
- China premier warns on economic slowdown
- Gunmen fire on army bus in Cairo, 1 killed
- Lost jet 'may have flown for four hours'
- Gold up as Ukraine, China prompt safe-haven bids
- Search finds no sign of lost plane at suspect spot
- Missing jet may have strayed to Andaman
- Gold hits near 6-month high
- 2 killed in Manhattan building blast
- Cameron pushes for travel bans on Russian MPs
- Indian coastguards join Malaysia jet search
- Confusion as search for lost jet spreads
- Military denies lost plane's flight to Malacca
- Investors monitoring Pimco after internal strife
- N Korea tanker ‘leaves Libya rebel port carrying oil’
- Malaysia plane incident not terror related: Interpol