March 6th, 2009
04:17 PM ET
2 years ago

Clinton 'reset button' gift to Russian FM gets lost in translation

A little misunderstanding over a big red button.
A little misunderstanding over a big red button.

(CNN) - When it comes to Russia, the Obama administration has been talking about “pressing the reset button.” It’s meant to symbolize a possible new start in U.S./Russian relations, which “crashed” after Russia invaded Georgia last August.

So when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton greeted Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Geneva Friday before sitting down to their working dinner, she was all smiles when she presented him a small green box with a ribbon.

Lavrov opened it and, inside, there was a red button with the Russian word “peregruzka” printed on it.

"I would like to present you with a little gift that represents what President Obama and Vice President Biden and I have been saying and that is: 'We want to reset our relationship, and so we will do it together.' ...

"We worked hard to get the right Russian word. Do you think we got it?" she asked Lavrov, laughing.

“You got it wrong," said Lavrov, as both diplomats laughed.

“It should be “perezagruzka” [the Russian word for reset]," said Lavrov."This says ‘peregruzka,’ which means ‘overcharged.’”

A quick comeback – and recovery – from Clinton: "We won't let you do that to us, I promise. We mean it and we look forward to it."

Ever the diplomat, Lavrov says he’ll put the “reset” button on his desk.

A few minutes later, Clinton senior adviser Philippe Reines sent an e-mail message to reporters covering the Secretary of State.

“Since we're all learning a little Russian today, ‘opechatka’ is Russian for ‘typo,'” he wrote. “So the *Opechatka* is being fixed, the gift will correctly read ‘Perezagruzka’ by the time of the joint press conference. If any of you travel with labelmaking devices equipped with Russian spell-check, please do let me know...”


Filed under: Hillary Clinton
soundoff (164 Responses)
  1. Martin

    I'm all in favor of restoring relationships with Russia,... but I just want to make sure I got this right... the President's idea for a gift to the Russians was a big red button? Didn't any public relations officer stand up at some point and go "Um,... sir. Maybe the symbolism of presenting them with "the button" might be innapropriate". Did we include a pair of two matching keys with it?

    March 6, 2009 05:01 pm at 5:01 pm |
  2. David

    I love Hillary and President Obama...Hillary is always smiling, im so happy she's our Sec of State, she's the best face for this nation!

    March 6, 2009 05:02 pm at 5:02 pm |
  3. The Last Patriot

    Glad we have incompetents representing the United States.

    Great symbolism, present a button that looks like a nuclear detonator.

    What a clown show our government has become.

    March 6, 2009 05:02 pm at 5:02 pm |
  4. john, NV

    Love her or hate her but she is one smart women.

    March 6, 2009 05:02 pm at 5:02 pm |
  5. Peter Bekgran

    Bravo,
    I am proud to be an American agan! Thank you Hillary Clinton for serving our Country with diplomacy insted of guns. My great thoughts are with you. Best Peter Bek-gran Opera Restaurant Key West

    March 6, 2009 05:03 pm at 5:03 pm |
  6. Marcia, Marcia, Marcia in CA

    LOL, well maybe that was meant for the American Taxpayer! Leave it to the overpaid bureaucrats to screw that one up too!!

    March 6, 2009 05:03 pm at 5:03 pm |
  7. flashsumner

    ok, so beyond the typo, does it occur to anyone else that pushing a red button is an inappropriate symbol? Doesn't anyone else see the symbolic 'nuclear button'?

    March 6, 2009 05:03 pm at 5:03 pm |
  8. Agnes

    There is not one Russian language expert in the State Department who could have gotten this right?

    March 6, 2009 05:08 pm at 5:08 pm |
  9. Beverly, NYC

    That is too funny. A mis-place A could have started and international incident. Next time Hillary just present a nice bottle of Vodka.

    March 6, 2009 05:08 pm at 5:08 pm |
  10. change

    lol.. no I think she had it right

    March 6, 2009 05:09 pm at 5:09 pm |
  11. Bill

    No doubt women across America are going to be scrambling to get pregnant this weekend, so they can run out and get an abortion in a few weeks? Yeah, that sounds just as idiotic when read as it does when the false moralists spew it loudly and to ad nauseum.

    March 6, 2009 05:13 pm at 5:13 pm |
  12. slion

    instead of reset button that looks like a launch button, wow we pay how much in government tax dollars and we couldn't get a the russian word for reset right?

    March 6, 2009 05:14 pm at 5:14 pm |
  13. Irishny

    Cant help but feel that if Bush or one of his administration members did this,all the democrats would be shouting about how dumb he was.

    March 6, 2009 05:14 pm at 5:14 pm |
  14. Expat American

    The joke may not have worked as expected, but Hillary Clinton is intelligent, worldly, charming, and tough as nails! I'm happy that she is the Secretary of State and thankful that she is representing the United States abroad and not Sarah Palin -Dear Lord, just imagine that....

    March 6, 2009 05:15 pm at 5:15 pm |
  15. Bill

    Why is it that only the Russians and the Asians still need translators to deal with the governments of other nations? South Americans, Europeans and Africans can all conduct diplomacy in the accepted international diplomatic language: English. They used to be able to do this in French, when it was the official language. There's a reason why there's an official language. It is so that there will be no impediment to communication between world leaders and their diplomatic consuls.

    March 6, 2009 05:16 pm at 5:16 pm |
  16. JC

    You get what you elect. I guess all that time as 1st lady is paying off in foreign policy experience

    March 6, 2009 05:17 pm at 5:17 pm |
  17. Darren from Dallas.

    With so many past generations of Americans living in fear of a Russian finger on "the button" ... it makes me cringe to see our Secretary of State giving the Russians a button to push.

    March 6, 2009 05:17 pm at 5:17 pm |
  18. Concerned in Illinois

    Oh, great, the beginning of "Gimmick Diplomacy" ...

    Fabulous.

    March 6, 2009 05:19 pm at 5:19 pm |
  19. Janine

    lol. Cute story. :-) I'm so proud of Hillary.

    March 6, 2009 05:22 pm at 5:22 pm |
  20. Frank

    Can u imagine?? So many supposedly smart people in the State Department and they cant even get a simple translation right. Wonder who is clearing out their desk and being transferred to a weather station in Nome, Alaska over this one.

    March 6, 2009 05:23 pm at 5:23 pm |
  21. ngp

    so, we can't even get someone that speaks Russian? That inspires confidence

    March 6, 2009 05:23 pm at 5:23 pm |
  22. rc

    All this money being poured into government, foreign policy, national security, etc., and no one at the state department can spell-check the word "reset" in russian or find someone else that knows...

    Hope these guys aren't working for the cia. They might mistake lunch for launch and there goes WWIII...

    March 6, 2009 05:24 pm at 5:24 pm |
  23. MLB

    At least he got the joke.
    I mean, why might the Russians take a "red button" the wrong way?

    March 6, 2009 05:26 pm at 5:26 pm |
  24. LOLinDenver

    Did it not occur to them that the image of Russia and the US pushing big red buttons together could be taken to mean something else entirely???

    (Nope, not a political statement or criticism– I just think it's funny as heck.)

    March 6, 2009 05:26 pm at 5:26 pm |
  25. Aaron

    Not quite as funny as when JFK accidentally said "I am a jelly Donut" in Germany, but any laughter with our Russian allies would be good at a time like this.

    March 6, 2009 05:28 pm at 5:28 pm |
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