Foreign Ministry fined over Sarkozy-Topolánek leak

Nicolas Sarkozy, Mirek Topolánek, photo: CTK

The National Security Office has fined the Foreign Ministry over the leak of a transcript of an official conversation between the Czech prime minister Mirek Topolánek and the French president Nicholas Sarkozy. The transcript, which contained some rather undiplomatic language, caused a minor sensation and prompted an apology from Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg.

Article in Reflex magazine
It’s still not clear how a confidential transcript of October’s meeting in Paris between prime minister Topolánek and President Sarkozy saw the light of day, or even how faithful it was to what exactly was said. But diplomatic sources say it was exactly how leaders speak to each other in private. High-level talks such as these are never recorded electronically, although representatives of the two sides usually take notes.

These notes somehow found their way to the Czech news magazine Reflex, which printed them as a conversation. Here’s an extract, when the French president is trying to persuade the Czech prime minister to let France keep control of the Mediterranean union even after Paris relinquished the EU presidency to Prague.

Sarkozy: “Last point: I want to present the Mediterranean Union as an agreement between the Czech Republic and France. We’ll build an alliance, and you’ll save yourself a problem. You’ll be stronger in the Czech Republic. And it’ll make my life easier.”

Topolánek: “I understand what you mean. The Mediterranean Union is your baby, you brought it up, and without French nourishment the baby won’t survive. We’re interested in finding a solution. I’m just afraid that we’re setting a precedent.”

Sarkozy: “And you’ll be stronger. Do you know what it’s like, being on your own against all those Arabs? Having them on the other end of the telephone? They’re terrible, I’m telling you.”

Nicolas Sarkozy,  Mirek Topolánek,  photo: CTK
The publication of the conversation caused a mild uproar, so rarely does the public get a glimpse into the inner workings of diplomacy. There was some debate as to its veracity as well as its origin, although the fact that Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg issued an official apology to France almost immediately seemed to suggest it was real enough.

On Monday it emerged that the National Security Office had issued a small fine to the Foreign Ministry for breaching national security laws. The head of the body, Dušan Navrátil, confirmed the news to Rádio Česko.

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, concretely the Embassy of the Czech Republic in France, failed to apply the “Restricted” security level to the transcript of the conversation between Prime Minister Topolánek and President Sarkozy. The National Security Office has therefore fined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs 77,000 crowns. The National Security Office decided on a low fine because it believes the purpose of the fine was to act as a caution.”

The Foreign Ministry hasn’t commented on the fine, saying it has to study it first.