That Pesky Reset Button

Rory Cooper /

An assistant shows the block with a red button marked "reset" in English and "overload" in Russian that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton handed to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov during a meeting on March 6, 2009 in Geneva.

The media and pundits alike have skewered the Clinton State Department for giving Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov a prop “reset button” when Secretary Clinton met with him in Geneva earlier in the month. Obviously it is a bad idea to reset relations with Russia only weeks into a new presidential term, especially given the number of outstanding sensitive issues that the United States should maintain some level of leadership on, rather than ceding all ground to Russia. But this episode also demonstrated a clear lack of leadership at the State Department, as it was the second very embarrassing diplomatic “gift” since President Obama took office.

Secretary Clinton’s aides had been very careful to get the Russian word for reset correct. That’s not to say they spoke to any of their Russian translators or diplomatic officials, but it sounds like they googled it very carefully. The result was a plastic yellow and red toy button that was inscribed “Reset” on one side and “Peregruzka” on the other. The problem? Peregruzka means overcharged. It was also written in Latin script rather than the native Cyrillic.

Politico published the apology from longtime Clinton aide Philippe Reines: ““Ultimotely [sic], this was my soul [sic] risponsibility [sic], nobody else’s in or out of the building. While the Russians laughed off the error and accepted the gift in the spirit of cooperation that it was meant, I’ve been sic [sic] about the mistake since, especially that I let down the Secretary and the fine professionals at the State Department.”