The government in Berlin has called critical comments by US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland on the EU "absolutely unacceptable," also praising the EU's Catherine Ashton for her mediation efforts in Ukraine.
The telephone conversation between Victoria Nuland and the US ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt, elicited critical comments both from the chancellor's office and the German foreign ministry on Friday.
Deputy government speaker Christiane Wirtz told reporters in Berlin that Chancellor Angela Merkel considered Nuland's phrase "F--- the EU" to be "absolutely unacceptable."
Wirtz also said that Merkel was of the opinion that EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton was doing "an outstanding job" in her efforts to mediate in Kyiv.
A spokesman for the foreign ministry in Berlin, meanwhile, joked that the uproar showed the problem with listening in on high-ranking phone calls, an apparent allusion to the NSA's monitoring of the mobile phones of Chancellor Merkel and her predecessor, Gerhard Schröder.
Without disputing the authenticity of the fragment of a phone call, posted on YouTube with Russian-language subtitles, the US has accused the Kremlin of being behind the leak. In the conversation, Nuland discusses a then-new proposal that would involve the US and the UN, but not EU negotiators.
Klitschko warns EU, US to avoid 'trap'
Recently-retired boxer Vitaly Klitschko, one of Ukraine's opposition leaders, called on both Brussels and Washington not to let the release derail their efforts in Kyiv.
"In my view it's clear to see that the US and the EU were meant to be provoked by this release. All sides now need to respond calmly and should not fall into this trap," Klitschko told the German mass-circulation Bild daily, in comments that were due to be published in full on Saturday. "It is important that the US and EU continue to mediate together, everything else only helps the regime of [President Viktor] Yanukovych."
Nuland and Ambassador Pyatt discussed Klitschko in their conversation, with Nuland suggesting that the political newcomer should take a back seat in any power-sharing role, favoring former economy and foreign minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk. Yatsenyuk leads Ukraine's second largest party, that of jailed former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko.
"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," Nuland said, identifying Yatsenyuk as "the guy who's got the economic experience, the governing experience."
Nuland: private diplomatic conversations
Nuland, currently in Kyiv, said on Friday that she did not believe the incident would sour US-Russian relations or derail efforts at finding a peaceful solution in Ukraine.
"I am not going to comment on private diplomatic conversations. But it was pretty impressive tradecraft. The audio was extremely clear," Nuland said.
On Thursday evening, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki had also used the term "tradecraft," a soft term favored by Washington to denote espionage.
EU phone call leaked
Also on Friday, a leaked European Union telephone conversation appeared on YouTube, in which two diplomats discuss their frustration about criticism from the US for being "soft" on issues like the threat of sanctions for Ukraine.
"We are not soft at all," German diplomat Helga Schmid tells Poland's ambassador to Ukraine Jan Tombinski in the discussion. "We just don't go shouting it from the rooftops because it's much more effective if we act in the way you and I discussed."
Schmid expressed an intention in the phone call, seemingly conducted late in January, for Catherine Ashton to discuss the issue directly with John Kerry.
msh/dr (AFP, dpa, Reuters)