Wiki Leaks and Diplomacy.

December 3, 2010

 

 

PARIS — In the world of diplomacy, known for its ambiguity and opacity, the WikiLeaks organization says its function is to “keep government open.” But with the release of some 250,000 American diplomatic cables, the outcome may be more ambiguous, closing doors to United States diplomats, turning candor to reticence and leaving many people leery of baring their souls and secrets to American officials.

There is, so far, no evidence of any deep damage to American diplomacy — with many nations, in public anyway, brushing off the sometimes embarrassing revelations. Their own interest in a relationship with the United States, some suggested, trumps momentary awkwardness.

“Relationships between countries don’t get affected on the basis of what one ambassador has allegedly written,” said Qamar Zaman Kaira, the information minister in Pakistan, a nation whose contacts with the United States are at once important, fraught and complex.

But there is no shortage of anger either — in Turkey, Russia, Mexico and elsewhere. “I am worried about the Americans spying; they have always been very interfering,” said President Felipe Calderón of Mexico.

And in an age when years of diplomatic cables can be stored on a single flash drive, it appeared that WikiLeaks might not be alone: Al Akhbar, a Lebanese newspaper that supports the Shiite militant and political group Hezbollah, has been posting documents from eight Arab countries, including Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt and Libya.

On Friday, evidence mounted of at least the beginning of damage to American allies, with officials from Canada and Germany either leaving their jobs or offering to do so as a result of the revelations.

The first casualty of the leaks was Helmut Metzner, the chief of staff to Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle of Germany. Mr. Metzner resigned late Thursday after being identified in one document as a “young, up-and-coming party loyalist” who provided American Embassy officials in Berlin with an account of what were supposed to be confidential negotiations last year to form a new German coalition.

In Canada, there was still no official response on Friday to a reported offer by William Crosbie, the Canadian ambassador in Afghanistan, to resign in advance of publication of a leaked cable recording his views on President Hamid Karzai and his family.

In Germany, leaked cables told a different story, describing events in Berlin that might once have inspired a cold war spy thriller if not for the fact that both players involved — the United States and Germany — are allies in NATO and in many other ways.

According to the cables, negotiations were under way last year to form a coalition between the Christian Democrats, led by Chancellor Angela Merkel, and Mr. Westerwelle’s Free Democrats.

One cable, quoted in the British newspaper The Guardian, reported how American diplomats relied on “a fly on the wall, a young, up-and-coming party loyalist who was taking notes during the marathon talks” to provide documents and information about the negotiations.

When word of the mole’s existence emerged this week, Mr. Westerwelle reacted dismissively. On Friday, Wulf Oehme, a spokesman for the Free Democrats, said Mr. Metzner had been suspended from his job, though not expelled from the party.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, on a trip to Central Asia and the Middle East, continued to smooth over any tensions with foreign leaders. She traveled on Friday to Bahrain, whose king was quoted in the leaked cables as urging Washington to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons by any means necessary.

Bahrain’s foreign minister, while declining to confirm the remarks attributed to King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, said the Persian Gulf kingdom had repeatedly told Iran that it should not pursue a military nuclear program. None of the comments attributed to the king, he said, contradicted Bahrain’s position.

“Every country in the Middle East has the right for nuclear power for peaceful use,” the foreign minister, Sheik Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa, said after meeting with Mrs. Clinton.

But, he added: “When it comes to taking that power and developing it into a cycle for weapons grade, this is something that we can never accept and we can never live with in this region. We’ve said it to Iran.”

Samples of opinion, from Asia to Europe to Latin America, showed the global reaction to the WikiLeaks cables.

Bernard Kouchner, who until recently was the foreign minister in France, predicted: “We will all terribly mistrust each other. That is the risk.”

A Chinese intellectual, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he feared exposure, said the disclosures had left some Chinese who had had contact with United States diplomats “nervous” about the possibility of persecution by the authorities, who had blocked access in China to the WikiLeaks Web site.

Turkey, the subject of many of the cables, has become increasingly critical of Washington’s handling of the secret material, calling the disclosures the latest blow in the deterioration of the United States’ image as the world’s leading power and questioning how the documents could have been so easily leaked.

Analysts in Britain, which once prided itself on its so-called special relationship with Washington, seemed to acknowledge that the cables reflected the nation’s eroded status in their criticism of British leaders and the British military. Over the past decade, said Prof. Malcolm Chalmers of the Royal United Services Institute, “We all have fewer illusions about just how important the U.K. is anyway.”

The diplomatic revelations also reached into delicate relationships that Washington is seeking to nurture, like in Moscow, where the leaked cables made disparaging references to President Dmitri A. Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin.

“We are not paranoiacs, and we do not link Russian-American relations to any leaks,” Mr. Medvedev said on Friday. “However, these leaks are revealing. They show the full measure of cynicism behind the assessments and judgments which prevail in the foreign policy of various nations, in this case the United States.”

Oddly, though, in two places where the leaked cables seemed to have raised some of the most unsettling questions, the response has been muted.

In the Arab world, much of the press is owned by members of the Saudi royal family and tends to avoid topics that could embarrass the kingdom. The cables quoted King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and Persian Gulf leaders as urging the United States to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities, but the response, in the words of Osama Nogali, a spokesman for the Saudi Foreign Ministry, has been to say that the cables “do not concern” the kingdom since they reflect American analysis.

In Kabul, Afghanistan, some business leaders worried that the disclosures could have a more roundabout effect, further undermining American commitment to support the government.

“Afghan corruption is not just an Afghan domestic issue, it is also a U.S. domestic issue because it’s your money,” said Saad Mohseni, the chairman of Moby Group, the largest media company in Afghanistan. “Your tolerance of corruption in our country will raise questions back home in the United States public, the media and even Congress.”

Conversely, some places, notably Israel, saw the WikiLeaks disclosures as helpful, since they seemed to show Arab leaders quietly saying what had long been publicly argued by Israeli leaders — that the region’s main threat was Iran.

“At least on the Iranian issue — and apparently on more than a few other matters — the leaders of the world, including the Arab world, think as we do, but are ashamed to admit it,” said Sever Plocker, a columnist for the newspaper Yediot Aharonot.

Reporting was contributed by Ellen Barry from Moscow; Katrin Bennhold and Scott Sayare from Paris; Michael Slackman and Stefan Pauly from Berlin; Mark Landler from Manama, Bahrain; Edward Wong and Jonathan Ansfield from Beijing; Elisabeth Malkin from Mexico City; Salman Masood from Islamabad, Pakistan; Alissa J. Rubin from Kabul, Afghanistan; Jack Healy from Baghdad; Celia W. Dugger from Johannesburg; Jeffrey Gettleman from Nairobi, Kenya; Robert F. Worth from Sana, Yemen; Sebnem Arsu from Istanbul; Ravi Somaiya from London; and Ethan Bronner from Jerusalem.

Copyright. 2010. The New York Times Company. All Rights Reserved

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: