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Saturday, March 7, 2009

Obama Administration Has Desperate Need for Gift Czar

Wrong red button
By DAVID S. CLOUD | 3/6/09 1:18 PM EST

GENEVA—After promising to “push the reset button” on relations with Moscow, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton planned to present Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov with a light-hearted gift at their talks here Friday night to symbolize the Obama administration’s desire for a new beginning in the relationship.

It didn’t quite work out as she planned.

She handed him a palm-sized box wrapped with a bow. Lavrov opened it and pulled out the gift—a red plastic button on a black base with a Russian word “peregruzka” printed on top.

“We worked hard to get the right Russian word. Do you think we got it?” Clinton said as reporters, allowed in to observe the first few minutes of the meeting, watched.

“You got it wrong,” Lavrov said, to Clinton’s clear surprise. Instead of "reset," he said the word on the box meant “overcharge.”

Clinton and Lavrov guffawed. “We won’t let you do that to us,” she said.

Despite the shoddy translation work on the U.S. side, Clinton and Lavrov emerged from their meeting a few hours later saying they had accomplished their initial goal—reducing the frostiness in U.S.-Russia relations that had taken hold by the end of the Bush administration.

At a joint press conference afterward Clinton and Lavrov called each other by their first names and said they had conducted wide-ranging discussions on Iran, missile defense, Afghanistan, and nuclear arms reduction. They agreed to intensify preparations for opening a new round of nuclear arms negotiations to replace the one that expires at the end of this year.

They each emphasized that major disagreements and disputes remain on matters such as U.S. support for Georgia, the former Soviet republic invaded by Moscow last year, and on an announced sale by Moscow of advanced air defense missiles to Iran. The improvement in tone was unmistakable compared to the icy encounters that Lavrov used to hold with Clinton’s predecessor.

But in a meeting largely devoid of concrete accomplishments, Clinton’s gift became a source of continuing amusement to everyone except her staff, who realized that flubbing a foreign language hardly made their boss, the nation’s top diplomat, look good.

When a Russian reporter asked her about the mistake, Clinton conceded that Lavrov had “corrected our word choice” and went on to gamely make the best of it. “In a way the word that was on the button turns out also to be true,” she argued Though Lavrov had said that word on the button meant overcharge, Clinton suggested that that peregruzka could also be translated as overload.

“We are resetting so the minister and I have an overload of work,” she said.

But Lavrov refused to let the matter rest there, bringing it up twice more during the press conference in a way that suggested he wasn’t completely unhappy at Clinton’s discomfort.

“We have reached agreement on how reset should sound in both Russian and English,” he announced at one point. “We have no disagreement here.”

A few minutes later, he referred to the gift again, noting that he and Clinton had pressed the button together—a move that summoned up thoughts not of easing tension but of launching a nuclear strike.

“It is a very, very large red button,” he said. “I do hope that Russia and the United States and other countries would never ever push any other buttons associated with initiation of destructive hostilities.”

He told Clinton he would put the button on his desk in Moscow.


My Thoughts

Is it stupidity, carelessness, or apathy that this administration doesn't seem to put any thought at all toward the gifts that they give foreign leaders? Their gift choices have been beyond horrendous.

First he gives PM Gordon Brown 25 DVD's that he has probably numerous times. Then Hillary gives her Russian counterpart a red button that was supposed to say "reset" but instead says "overcharge". I wonder if it was a Freudian moment. Could "overcharge" symbolize the overcharging of America's credit Obama is using to pay for all of his liberal fantasies.

Hillary said they "worked hard" to find the right word. How hard is it to pick up a Russian to English dictionary? What about the many translator websites that they could have used? I know Obama has a Blackberry, and there is a language translator that he can get and use on his phone for free.

For a campaign that was flawless, it's amazing how much the actual governing looks like the complete opposite.

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