Salty-tongued US envoy to Europe used to choppy waters

7th February 2014, Comments 0 comments

US envoy Victoria Nuland is trying to ride out a diplomatic storm after being caught out using some very salty language about her European partners.

But then, she is well used to navigating perilous waters. After all, as a young woman she spent months alone on a Soviet trawler with a crew of tough Russian fishermen.

Then in her 20s and a junior foreign service officer, she has credited her stint on the boat as part of a joint Pacific survey for honing both her now fluent Russian -- including a few choice swear words -- and her partiality for the occasional shot of vodka.

Caught in a bugged phone call saying "Fuck the EU," Nuland, known to friends and colleagues alike as Toria, has a reputation for being a model of diplomacy in public while pulling no punches in private.

Now 52 and the top US diplomat for Europe, she has aligned herself with the pro-democracy protestors in Ukraine, visiting Independence Square in Kiev in December to hand out bread in show of support.

It was perhaps a flashback to what she has called her "formative" experience as a young political officer in Moscow in 1991, when she mixed with crowds battling an attempted putsch by die-hard Soviet communist leaders.

"The memory of those days is a regular reminder to me that the universal values that bind the transatlantic community and undergird all that we do together are a beacon to people everywhere always," she said at her swearing-in ceremony in September.

Nuland joined the State Department at 23 and rose through the ranks of what was a notoriously male-dominated service, gaining first-hand knowledge of Russian, European and global affairs.

"I thought, 'This is a great way to have an adventure. I'll do this for five years, and then I'll decide what I want to be when I grow up,'" she told the alumni magazine of her alma mater, Brown University, last year.

She has served in Russia and helped open the first US embassy in Mongolia when she was still only 28 because she wanted to go "where it's crazy and brand-new."

She has also been posted in Guangzhou, China, worked as a special national security advisor to then vice president Dick Cheney, and was the US ambassador to NATO from 2005 to 2008.

When former State Department spokesman P.J.Crowley resigned in 2011 after publicly criticizing the Pentagon's treatment of WikiLeaks informer Bradley Manning, Nuland stepped in to become the public face of US diplomacy.

Her appointment as spokeswoman for then secretary of state Hillary Clinton raised some eyebrows, as she is married to influential conservative historian and foreign policy analyst Robert Kagan, who advised Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney.

But Nuland proved a steady hand, deftly deflecting tough questions in her daily briefings, and often sparring with journalists seeking to provoke her into one of her rare but juicy, whip-cracking responses.

As she was sworn as assistant secretary for Europe by US Secretary of State John Kerry, her new boss joked that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had congratulated him on firing Nuland with whom the Russian had had a frosty relationship.

"I took great pleasure in looking at him and saying, 'No, I promoted her,'" Kerry quipped.

Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday voiced outrage at Nuland's spicy language apparently captured in a bugged phone call about the Ukraine crisis with the US ambassador to Kiev.

But it is not the first scandal to have ensnared Nuland, who was caught up in the row over the 2012 militant attack on the US embassy in Libya, when emails suggested she had sought advice on how to present her department's handling of the aftermath.

With characteristic humor, she told her swearing-in that "my unclassified email has been disabled" and she would be going back to "training up the fleet of carrier pigeons so we can communicate with the field."

In all probability, her previous mobile phone has now also been retired in favor of a more secure model.

© 2014 AFP

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