The not-so-quiet diplomat


WARSAW — A cardinal trait of diplomats is the ability to be diplomatic, but that characteristic seems to have escaped former Polish foreign minister Anna Fotyga, who has set off yet another conflict between Poland’s president and prime minister.

Fotyga is a candidate to become Poland's ambassador to the United Nations. She served during the previous right-wing government, which made a habit of fighting with the European Union, Russia, Germany and just about everyone else on the planet except for Washington.

She was the choice of Poland’s president, Lech Kaczynski, who is an ardent admirer of the combative Fotyga. However, the center-right government of Prime Minister Donald Tusk was much cooler to her candidacy, only bending in an effort to repair frayed ties with Kaczynski.

With that cloud hanging over her, Fotyga showed up at a hearing of the parliamentary foreign relations committee, which has to approve her candidacy, and proclaimed: “A person with my background is really deeply wounded when looking at what is happening today with Poland’s foreign policy.”

When a reporter asked Radoslaw Sikorski, Poland’s current foreign minister, about Fotyga's comment, he was incredulous: “I can’t believe she’d say anything like that.”

When it became clear that she had said it, an offended Sikorski pointed out that it would be unusual to send an insubordinate ambassador to such an important post.

“I’m still waiting for an explanation, but I think it’s unlikely [that Fotyga will get the job],” Sikorski said.

Although no final decision has yet been made on Fotyga’s fate, Tusk has been frigid about his potential ambassador. “I have the opinion that the minister de facto told us she was uninterested. It will probably end with her having to wait for a new government.”

If the spat were about nothing more than a case of foot-in-mouth by an ambassadorial nominee, it would have little impact, but the fight over Fotyga is threatening to re-ignite the already stormy relationship between Tusk and Kaczynski.

Kaczynski is withholding his signature from six ambassadorial nominations, leaving those posts unfilled. Insiders say the reason is to hold a threat over Tusk’s head in case he decides to oppose Fotyga’s appointment.

Renewed fighting between Poland’s leaders will do little to enhance the country’s diplomatic credentials, which have already been tattered by past conflicts over who gets to take the lead in foreign policy.

Kaczynski, who is suspicious of both Germany’s and Russia’s intentions toward Poland, has made a point of establishing his own foreign policy that is occasionally at odds with that of Sikorski and the government. In a calculated snub at western Europe, he has embraced Vaclav Klaus, his Czech counterpart, who has in the past compared the European Union to the Soviet empire. In the east, Kaczynski often travels to anti-Russian countries like the Baltic states, Georgia and Ukraine, hoping to shore them up against any dreams of imperial revival on Moscow’s part.

Tusk has made it a centerpiece of his foreign policy to undo some of the damage wrought by Lech Kaczynski’s twin brother Jaroslaw, who was prime minister until 2007, and Fotyga was his foreign minister. Sikorski spent part of this week in Moscow in an unusually warm visit that seems to have dramatically reduced the strain between the historic enemies. Vladimir Putin, Russia’s prime minister, is scheduled to visit Poland in September.

But efforts to paint Poland as a more predictable partner have been damaged by unseemly fights between Tusk and Kaczynski over who gets to represent the country at international summits, with the frequent but awkward result being that both men squeeze into Poland’s spot at the conference table, unwilling to let their rival bask in the spotlight alone. Kaczynski has balked at following instructions from the government, while the government has occasionally gone out of its way to humiliate the president.

In recent weeks some of the venom seemed to have drained from the confrontation, but now Fotyga’s performance threatens to spark yet another conflict.

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