Thank you very much to dulcinea for the transcript in #150 and to PS for the background info on Mr. Coomaraswamy in #152. It always helps to get the facts in a discussion like this, and many people don't have access to video, or at least not during the workday.
It now appears that neither of them was really all that impolite, it was just a misunderstanding. Mr. Coomaraswamy was really asking an innocent question: was it okay for him to ask in English? Knowing that Mr. Westerwelle spoke English and that all international reporters understand English, he assumed that the answer would be yes, so it was really just a question for form's sake, out of politeness. But surprisingly the answer was no, which was also fair, if unexpected and less polite. I agree that Mr. Westerwelle could have handled it better by taking a friendlier, less annoyed tone -- Selima's word souverän was good -- even if his answer was still going to be, No, actually I would rather not. His attempt to lighten it up with a rather lame joke at the end shows, I think, that he probably realized that even while he was talking.
It actually reminds me a good deal of the flap over Hillary Clinton's ill-considered response to a question in India. Also an instance where someone relatively new to the job, lacking some of the usual background, and who had previously been the target of unfair political attacks for social reasons, simply slipped up one time, and undoubtedly regretted it long afterward.
Someone mentioned Condi Rice far above; she did speak Russian pretty well, at least, she had read a lot of it in her academic career, and I think she read two or three other languages, but I'm sure she almost always used an interpreter in public. And as far as self-confidence and being in command of a situation, she actually seemed on edge to me the entire time she had that job. Poised, but a brittle poise, with tension just below the surface. I had the feeling she was an introvert in an extravert's job, with the added stress of being a double minority, which probably made her feel like she had more to prove.
Partly that job, foreign minister / secretary of state, is just a huge responsibility for anyone, and becoming more and more stressful all the time, what with more and more really tough problems like Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, all against the background of unsecured nuclear weapons. If Westerwelle is just starting to receive security briefings, he may well be scared, and rightly so.
I don't think I've ever even seen the guy to know who he is. If he's not as strong a candidate as Fischer or Albright or someone, that's unfortunate, but hopefully he'll grow into the job, as Clinton is also having to do. And hopefully his English and his poise will matter less than his overall ability to persuade people to do what needs to be done -- even if, in the foreseeable future, that turns out to be more in modest increments than in giant steps.