The Rice-Lavrov Tete-a-Tete


I’ve had quite a number of emails about the “steely exchange” between Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Condi Rice. Since the words exchanged were tense, some have wrongly jumped to the conclusion that this was another “undiplomatic” moment to file away with the Bush administration’s foreign policy files.
However, I think Secretary Rice and Lavrov were doing exactly what serious people debating serious matters should be doing — arguing over substance and debating the framing of issues that do matter.
Here is part of a report on the exchange, which I believe is more impressive than controversial:

Over the clink of glassware, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov challenged U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice about proposed language in a statement on behalf of the foreign ministers from the Group of Eight industrial democracies. “I don’t believe security is fine in Iraq, and I don’t believe in particular that security at foreign missions is OK,” Lavrov said, referring to the killing of five Russian diplomats in Iraq.
“Sergei, there is a need for improvement of security in Iraq, period,” Rice replied in a steely tone. “The problem isn’t diplomatic missions,” she said. “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 . . . I think is simply not right.”
The two dominated a discussion of a proposed international compact on Iraq aid and political development, an idea supported by the U.S. Rice wanted the G8 statement to endorse the compact, but Lavrov held her off.
“Look, Condi, Condi . . . when we consider assistance programs, IMF and the World Bank, you do not automatically endorse something that a government endorses,” Lavrov told her. “It’s an important part of the exercise to consider specific features of an assistance program.”
In the end, the G8 statement refers to the proposed compact but does not endorse it.

I think we would all be better off if we had fewer photo-ops and more examples of debates of this kind. I respect Rice and Lavrov each more for hitting hard on matters they feel significant.
More later.
— Steve Clemons
Ed Note: Thanks to VS for sending the Mosnews link.


8 comments on “The Rice-Lavrov Tete-a-Tete

  1. Roland says:

    I realize that this is a few days old, but the WP also covered this:
    Different subject, but Russia-related, in The Nation, “The New American Cold War”:


  2. sona says:

    I fail to see what was so constructive about this conversation. It was one more instance of inept diplomatic skills of this administration. Rice refers to “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” – the comment makes no sense at all. Lavrov’s remarks applied to more than protection for diplomatic personnel. Who are the coalition forces fighting back against when they cannot even distinguish the “hapless Iraqi civilian population” from the “terrorist insurgent population”? And how is the security situation is either fine or improving when the Iraqi civilian population remains “hapless”? A ‘steely tone’ may be ok to bed with the Prez but is a sham show to convince the world that the US can be smart.


  3. Steambomb says:

    Note what she says here. “a terrorist insurgent POPULATION”. That to me is telling. She is admitting that there is a very very large number of insurgents that are deeply seated within the general population.


  4. KH says:

    I minor & perhaps unwarranted point.
    Rice says: ‘The problem is you have a terrorist insurgent population …’ I paused at the word ‘population.’ Obviously, in a narrow sense even two insurgents compose a population. But typically their enemies are loathe to use the word, with its sometime connotation of peoplehood. The normal thing is to emphasize their minority & isolation from any larger population, & this remains the official American line in Iraq. When an insurgency is constituted by an entire population, you’ve got the prospect of civil war, with a whole population as your enemy. Rice’s choice of words may reflect this wider view.
    But again, I probably overinterpret.


  5. Jerome Gaskins says:

    Amen, Mr. Clemons, Amen indeed!


  6. Roland says:

    It is very difficult to understand the context of this conversation. However, it is possible to analyze what is quoted here.
    Rice seems to implicitly, almost reflexively, take issue with Lavrov’s statement about security problems in Iraq. She states three times “The problem is …” and ends with (referring to Lavrov’s definition of the security problem) ” …is simply not right.”
    This, against the backdrop of the five horrific killings of Russian diplomats in the last few weeks. AND, events in Iraq dating back to August 2003 and the bombing which killed, among others, UN Special Representative Sérgio Vieira de Mello.
    An event which, given the US apathy at many levels in response, may have set the tone for much desired international involvement in and solutions to the US-Iraq “problem”.
    The elephant in the room is the perception that, for better or worse, “these problems did not exist when Saddam was in charge, you [the US] chose to upset the apple cart, and now you [the US] are asking us for help?”
    Would not US interests have been better served if Rice had simply stated in response to Lavrov, “Yes, Sergei, we acknowledge your pain; how would you and your government expect to work with me and my government to address these pressing matters?”
    Rice’s, and the US administrations’s, continuing didacticism and arrogance will continue to hinder positive international involvement in Iraq.
    Steve, yes this may be Rice “hitting hard” , but bottom line, this was not a constructive exchange for her or the US.


  7. Pacific Coast Ron says:

    Dear Steve,
    The relentless shallowness of the American press, which extends over at least two decades, is one of the major causes of the coming downfall of America. In the Associated Press, the shallowest angle is always the only one covered; people who still profess to journalistic ideals at the top media outlets will carefully choose one more-intelligent angle to cover, but then slant the story to favor one politician or policy conclusion, also helping to kill any intelligent debate.
    How these people can look at themselves in the mirror is beyond my powers of explanation. Until the left blogosphere can muster five million people writing letters of protest every time an American paper passes on the President’s words about “spreading democracy” without having their reporter explain that in the view of most foreigners, and many Americans, this President is spreading far more tyranny than democracy, we are kidding ourselves that all these words on these marginal sites (as soon as net neutrality is withdrawn) are really having any positive effect. Get out on the street, organize people (to almost anything! please !! ) face-to-face, and find creative legal ways of making it clear to Republican donors that they are killing America by supporting the most rotten Congress and President we have ever suffered under!
    To have the American media be in a perfect slump of relentless shallowness on political afairs, combined with an attitude of enjoying being kissers of official butt and in many cases absolutely refusing to listen to or report on dissident voices from the public, at the same time we have an Executive branch in a perfect storm of tyranny and a Congress that is simply going off on a lemming-like rush (towards a cliff not yet clearly foreseen) of mass stupidity and venality (on the part of the majority Repubs, and in weakness and irrelevance on the part of the Dems), the crisis of civilization in the US may be on us sooner than later … perhaps in the next twelve months if the dollar devaluation takes place and the middle class must realize they are now less than peasants of ancient times ….


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