US & Canada

Wikileaks: US allies unruffled by embassy cable leaks

Among the 250,000 confidential cables obtained by the website Wikileaks are frank comments by American diplomats on a number of allies.

BBC correspondents around the world look at the documents and the impact they might have in some of those countries.

Kevin Connolly, Washington DC, US

The US government has known for months that thousands of diplomatic cables intended only for friendly eyes were about to be subjected to hostile global scrutiny. So the work of soothing ruffled feathers around the world has been under way for some time.

While some of the content leaked so far is embarrassing to the United States and its allies nothing that has emerged into the public domain so far hints at a secret direction in US diplomacy which is at odds with Washington's public policies. The disclosures may amuse or outrage the world, but they won't keep it from turning.

America would probably prefer us not to know that its diplomats are snooping around the waste bins of the United Nations buildings for discarded tissues to help build DNA profiles of intelligence targets, but most foreign diplomats probably assumed they were anyway.

President Dmitry Medvedev of Russia might not be flattered to find himself described as Robin to Vladimir Putin's Batman - once it has been explained to him exactly who the dynamic duo were - but it is hardly the sort of issue which prompts one nuclear power to re-calibrate its relations with another.

In Washington there will be less interest in the immediate embarrassment than in any potential longer term consequences. Yemen and Saudi Arabia would certainly have preferred their dealings with the Americans to be cloaked in a little more discretion but the leaks will only really matter in the long run if they make it harder for the Yemeni government to co-operate with the American war on al-Qaeda.

So perversely, there is a measure of relief in Washington that a bad situation is not worse.

But there is real anger with Wikileaks and its allies in the media, about which you can expect to hear more.

The US Attorney General Eric Holder has talked of examining the possibility of criminal prosecutions and there have been calls for Wikileaks to be designated a terrorist organisation which would have drastic consequences for anyone who works for it or with it.

And the most immediate consequence of all is perhaps the most obvious. Part of America's embarrassment comes from the realisation that its systems for handling confidential material were hopelessly leaky and inadequate. They will have to be fixed before anyone will feel comfortable chatting with American diplomats again.

One further result of all this is worthy of note too.

The literary quality of the best dispatches is pretty high - take a look at the report written by an envoy to Moscow about a colourful wedding in Dagestan. It is presumably not the way in which the various authors would have wanted their work brought to the attention of the wider world but it's interesting that the best of the communiques stand up rather well to the scrutiny.

Jonah Fisher, Johannesburg, South Africa

Nothing that's emerged so far on Wikileaks has caused much surprise here. In fact one newspaper suggested that South Africa may be one of the countries least embarrassed by the leak of the diplomatic cables.

But anything that mentions the country's icon and first president Nelson Mandela still attracts huge interest.

So messages relating to his release from prison have been reported, as has his apparent fury with ANC colleagues when they stopped him meeting British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher shortly afterwards.

It's hard to imagine relations between the US and Zimbabwe's president getting any worse.

But Robert Mugabe may quite enjoy the ambassador's description of him as a devil. The cable also said that Mr Mugabe was more clever and ruthless than any other Zimbabwean politician.

One of those, Morgan Tsvangirai - a supposed ally of the US - may not be so pleased by his American report card. The cable called Zimbabwe's prime minister flawed, indecisive and lacking executive experience.

Duncan Kennedy, Rome, Italy

In Italy the comments about Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi are getting widespread coverage in newspapers and on television - including the stations run by Mediaset, which is owned by Mr Berlusconi's family.

Mr Berlusconi is described by a senior American diplomat as feckless, vain and ineffective as a modern European leader.

Another cable called him physically and politically weak and said that the prime minister did not rest properly because of his late-night partying.

All media outlets are also reporting another cable: an American diplomat said Mr Berlusconi appeared to be the mouth piece of Vladimir Putin in Europe, a reference to the close relations between the two men.

Italy's Foreign Minister Franco Frattini has described the release of the classified documents as the 9/11 of world diplomacy.

Jon Donnison, Ramallah, West Bank

For the Palestinians there is nothing too surprising in the latest Wikileaks documents. But there could be a few awkward conversations the next time US diplomats sit down with their Palestinian counterparts.

The news that US diplomatic staff in the region were asked to gather intelligence on Palestinian Authority leaders including their "travel plans, routes and vehicles used" as well as "financial, biographical and biometric" information is a little embarrassing.

It comes at a time when the US is working hard to build a relationship of trust with the Palestinian Authority as it pushes for Middle East peace talks to resume.

If interpreted as spying these revelations could undermine that trust, although many Palestinians leaders would assume the US would be trying to gather such information anyway.

The Wikileaks documents also reveal that Israel had asked Egypt and the Palestinian Authority under President Mahmoud Abbas to take over in Gaza after Israel's major military operation against Hamas there in January 2009.

But this information was already widely known in the region. Egypt and President Abbas refused.

Jonathan Head, Istanbul, Turkey

There are no real surprises in the leaked cables from the US Embassy in Ankara, but plenty of blunt comments that will be embarrassing to a number of Turkish and US officials.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is described as a perfectionist workaholic, who dominates his party.

The US embassy worries about his narrow world-view, describing him as surrounded by sycophantic advisors.

It also worries about Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu's ambition to construct a 'neo-Ottoman' foreign policy; more recent cables reveal US frustration over Turkey's refusal to be more critical of Iran over its nuclear programme.

The Turkish government's opponents can take little comfort from the sometimes scathing assessment of Mr Erdogan and his circle - the main opposition party is described in one cable as no more than a bunch of elitist ankle-biters.

There are also details of US efforts to support Turkey in its fight against Kurdish insurgents, and unfavourable comments about Turkey's bid to join the European Union, which is described as unfocussed and muddled.

But throughout the six years worth of cables two themes are repeated by US officials. The first is that - for all its Islamic leanings - evidence that Turkey's governing party has a secret fundamentalist agenda is weak. The second is that despite its faults, Turkey remains a vital US ally.

Paul Wood, Kabul, Afghanistan

The mood in the Afghan presidency was good, one palace insider told me. The office of US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton had called in advance to tell people what to expect.

"We feel OK because we are part of a large community of victims," said one senior official.

The reaction of another senior official was that there was nothing new in the cables.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai was described in one cable as having a paranoid world-view. But this was not the first time that this had been declared publicly, the official said.

This may be putting a brave face on things.

One British diplomat who had met the Afghan leader many times told me that Mr Karzai does indeed see plots everywhere. He is unlikely to be reassured by the US diplomatic traffic from Kabul.

Afghan officials are not quite ready to brush everything under the carpet. One official stressed that only four Afghan cables had been released - and there were some 2,500, they had been told, among the 250,000 obtained by Wikileaks.

Some 400 cables out of the total were top secret, said one official I spoke to. "So far, so good," he said, but the Afghan government wanted to reserve judgement until all the material had been made public.

Stephen Evans, Berlin, Germany

The Wikileaks revelations include 1,719 reports from the US embassy in Berlin back to Washington.

They indicate that somebody with inside knowledge was letting American officials know how negotiations were going to form a government in 2009.

Der Spiegel magazine, which received the set of documents from Wikileaks, cites a cable from the US ambassador describing the German informant as a "young, up-and-coming party member" from the Free Democrats (the party then negotiating with Mrs Merkel's Christian Democratic Union to form a governing coalition).

The ambassador said that this source had offered the embassy "internal party documents in the past" and was prepared to read out notes he had made and hand over documents from the negotiations.

The leaked documents also reveal the ambassador's views of German leaders. The country's chancellor was referred to as Angela "Teflon" Merkel because so little seemed to stick to her.

According to one cable sent to Washington in March 2009, "she is risk averse and rarely creative".

The German Foreign Minister, Guido Westerwelle, does not emerge well. The American view of him was that Mrs Merkel had "more government and foreign policy experience".

An embassy cable sent from Berlin on 22 September 2009 describes Mr Westerwelle as having an "exuberant personality" and calling him an "enigma" who "remains sceptical about the US."

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