Even skilled diplomats sometimes stumble, especially when they think the microphones are off.
U.S. Ambassador Richard Norland in the former Soviet republic of Georgia found himself sputtering in outrage over comments he made earlier this month to students at Tbilisi State University in the capital of the Black Sea nation.
“This was a discussion with students. Actually it was off the record, and it was [a] secret recording,” he said in remarks posted on the U.S. Embassy website.
Mr. Norland suggested the quotes that appeared in the Georgian media were taken out of content, but the damage was done.
In his Nov. 15 address at the university, he complained about how the Georgian government treated residents of the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which have been restive since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.
Georgia has clashed in those regions twice in the early 1990s and with Russia in 2008, when the Kremlin backed South Ossetian forces in a four-day war.
Mr. Norland recalled his earlier diplomatic service in the region in the 1990s and called on Georgia to apologize for mistreating Abkhazians and South Ossetians. He compared the treatment of the two ethnic minorities to earlier Russia abuses against Georgians, according to reports in the Georgian press.
Responding to a student’s question about his opinion of the cauldron of tension in the region, Mr. Norland said:
“If you ask me about my opinion, I can tell you that when I was in Georgia 20 years ago, I saw that Georgians were treating Abkhazians and Ossetians the same way as Russians were treating Georgians, and Georgia will have to apologize for mistakes of the past.”
His remarks sparked protests from opposition politicians, while the government tried to play down the ambassador’s gaffe.
“Georgians do not have to apologize to anyone,” said Paata Davitaia, leader of the European Democrats.
MISSION TO MANILA
Philip S. Goldberg is scheduled to fly to Manila on Monday to take up his new post as U.S. ambassador to the Philippines, a country devastated by a deadly typhoon earlier this month.
Mr. Goldberg will help coordinate a massive U.S. relief effort to help more than 3 million people left homeless by Typhoon Haiyan, which has killed more than 5,200 Filipinos. The Senate quickly confirmed him last week, and Secretary of State John F. Kerry swore him in Thursday.
Mr. Goldberg, who served as ambassador to Bolivia from 2006 to 2008, replaces Harry K. Thomas Jr., who left the Philippines in October.