Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made a four-hour visit to Bulgaria this week, during which she received the East European country’s highest honor for her contribution to last year’s release of five Bulgarian nurses jailed in Libya for nearly a decade.
Miss Rice had many important issues to discuss with the leaders of the NATO and European Union member, including the hot topic of visa-free travel of Bulgarians to the United States. Even before she arrived in the capital of Sofia, however, she handed the Bulgarian media a golden opportunity to focus on something much more entertaining for them — but embarrassing for her.
During her flight from Washington to Prague, the first stop of a three-country European trip, Miss Rice told reporters Tuesday morning, “I’ll go to Bulgaria, where I’ve not been yet as secretary, and so I’m looking forward to that.”
Some of us were, in fact, in Bulgaria with Miss Rice in April 2006, where she attended a meeting of NATO foreign ministers. When one of those reporters gave her a chance to correct herself, she responded, “I went to Bulgaria, I think, as national security advisor, but I’ve not been as secretary,” adding, “I’m pretty sure.”
It was all resolved in the end, but because the exchange was part of an on-the-record briefing, that transcript was soon posted on the State Department’s Web site. Bulgarian media proclaimed that Miss Rice had “amnesia.”
Bulgarian officials were mildly offended. Some said in private that, although it is human for Miss Rice to have forgotten her overnight trip two years ago, she should have been reminded of it during the regular briefing she receives from her staff before visiting a foreign country.
— Nicholas Kralev, diplomatic correspondent, The Washington Times.