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Embassy Row: Arrogant Ambassador?

- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 5, 2012

Moscow's relentless criticism of U.S. Ambassador Michael McFaul reached a new height this week when the foreign minister accused him of arrogance.

Sergey Lavrov said that Mr. McFaul was "very arrogant" in appearing to dismiss Russia's concern about U.S. missile-defense plans for Europe in an interview the ambassador gave Tuesday with the state-owned RIA Novosti news agency.

The foreign minister's censure was the highest-ranking criticism of Mr. McFaul since he arrived in Moscow three months ago. Most of the previous complaints came from pro-Kremlin sources in the Russian media.

The onslaught of criticism started after Mr. McFaul met with Russian opposition leaders in January.

In his interview with RIA Novosti, Mr. McFaul was asked about Russia's concern that the U.S. missile-defense shield for Europe would undermine Moscow's own nuclear arsenal and disrupt the balance of power.

"We are going to accept no limitations on that whatsoever because the security of our people, of our allies, is the No. 1 priority," the ambassador said.

Mr. McFaul reiterated the U.S. position that the defense system is designed to protect Europe and the United States from missile attacks from rogue states like Iran and North Korea.

The United States has "no interest in building a missile-defense system against Russia's nuclear arsenal," he added.

Mr. Lavrov dismissed the ambassador's assurances, and lectured him on the proper role of an ambassador and the need to consult with the Russian government.

"Our colleague, the U.S. ambassador, made a very arrogant statement that there will be no changes on the missile-defense system, but as an ambassador he should understand that interests of the other state should also be taken into account," he said.

In his interview, Mr. McFaul also downplayed President Obama's comment to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that he would be more "flexible" on missile-defense if he is re-elected in November.

The two men thought they were speaking privately, but their remarks were picked up on a microphone as they were talking in Seoul, where they attended an annual conference on nuclear security.

Mr. McFaul said the president's comment "means were are going to build whatever missile-defense system we need."

Mr. Obama's critics have accused him of planning to make more concessions to the incoming Russian president, Vladimir Putin.

As prime minister, Mr. Putin objected strongly to the original plan promoted by President George W. Bush to put a missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic. Mr. Obama canceled those plans in favor of a scaled-back missile-defense on Navy warships.

PRESSURE ON GEORGIA

The U.S. is increasing pressure on the Republic of Georgia, after the government of the Black Sea nation this week refused to restore the citizenship of a leading political opposition figure.

U.S. Ambassador John Bass on Thursday questioned the legality of the decision to deny citizenship to Bidzina Ivanishvili, Georgia's richest man who was born in the Caucasus nation but lost his birthright last year after disclosing that he also held Russian and French citizenships.

"As a matter of principle, the United States believes that citizenship laws should be adjudicated and applied in a way that reinforces the underlying principle of equality before the law," Mr. Bass told reporters in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi.

"In this particular instance, we urge the government of Georgia to resolve the ongoing question of Mr. Ivanishvili's citizenship ... expeditiously."

In March, Rep. Jim McDermott introduced a bill to cut off all U.S. aid to Georgia if parliamentary elections in October are fraudulent. The Washington Democrat mentioned Mr. Ivanishvili several times in his bill.

Mr. Ivanishvili this week accused President Mikheil Saakashvili of revoking his citizenship for political reasons because he plans to form a political party and run for prime minister.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297 or email jmorrison@washingtontimes.com. The column is published on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

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