Intentionally or not, the Russians fed out audio of Thursday’s closed lunch meeting between Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, revealing a fractious exchange over the wording of an official Group of Eight statement on Iraq.
The feed provided a rare behind-the-scenes glimpse at the tense relationship during what Rice and Lavrov had believed was a private conversation. Throughout the meeting, the two officials argue and interrupt each other.
Later, Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay publicly described the contentious sessions as “frank.”
G8 foreign ministers were meeting in Moscow ahead of a July 15-17 summit of G8 leaders, to be held in St. Petersburg and hosted for the first time by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In the transcript of the meeting, Rice repeatedly interrupts Lavrov, particularly objecting to his proposal that the statement criticize the Iraq government for not adequately protecting diplomats.
(Four Russian diplomats kidnapped in June were killed by insurgents in Iraq, the Foreign Ministry confirmed Monday, prompting Putin to order special forces to destroy the killers.)
At one point Rice tells the Russian official: “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. … We are making those efforts and we are making them at quite a sacrifice. ... The problem isn’t diplomatic missions. The problem is journalists and civilian contractors and, yes, diplomats as well.
“The problem is you have a terrorist insurgent population that is wreaking havoc on a hapless Iraqi civilian population that is trying to fight back and on a coalition force that is trying to fight back and the implication that by somehow declaring that diplomats need to be protected it will get better I think is simply not right.”
At that point Lavrov tries to interject — and Rice cuts him off:
“I understand that in the wake of the brutal murder of your diplomats that it is a sensitive time, but I think that we can’t imply that this is an isolated problem or that it isn’t being addressed,” Rice said.
Eventually, they agreed on a public statement that condemns the killing without criticizing the Iraqi government on security.