US seeks to limit WikiLeaks damage

US seeks to limit WikiLeaks damage

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Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad meets King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia (AP)

The US has been forced into damage control mode by the WikiLeaks release of more than 250,000 classified government documents revealing unflattering assessments of world leaders and revelations about secret American diplomacy.

Their publication increased widespread global alarm about Iran’s nuclear ambitions and unveiled occasional US pressure tactics aimed at hot spots in Afghanistan, Pakistan and North Korea. The leaks also disclosed bluntly candid impressions from both diplomats and other world leaders about America’s allies and foes.

In the wake of the massive document dump by online whistleblower WikiLeaks and numerous media reports detailing the contents of the diplomatic cables, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was expected to address the diplomatic repercussions. She could deal with the impact first hand after she leaves Washington on a four-nation tour of Central Asia and the Middle East – regions that figure prominently in the leaked documents.

The cables unearthed new revelations about long-simmering nuclear trouble spots, detailing US, Israeli and Arab world fears of Iran’s growing nuclear programme, American concerns about Pakistan’s atomic arsenal and US discussions about a united Korean peninsula as a long-term solution to North Korean aggression.

None of the disclosures appeared particularly explosive, but their publication could become problematic for the officials concerned and for any secret initiatives they had preferred to keep quiet. The massive release of material intended for diplomatic eyes only is sure to ruffle feathers in foreign capitals, a certainty that already prompted US diplomats to scramble in recent days to shore up relations with key allies in advance of the leaks.

The documents published by The New York Times, France’s Le Monde, Britain’s Guardian , German magazine Der Spiegel and others laid out the behind-the-scenes conduct of Washington’s international relations, shrouded in public by platitudes, smiles and handshakes at photo sessions among senior officials.

Downing Street condemned the leaks, which it said were damaging to national security in Britain and the US: “It’s important that governments are able to operate on the basis of confidentiality of information,” a spokesman said.

Downing Street officials had been briefed by the US Ambassador on the content of the cables, the spokesman said, and Britain remained “in close contact” with the US. The White House immediately condemned the release of the WikiLeaks documents, saying “such disclosures put at risk our diplomats, intelligence professionals and people around the world who come to the US for assistance in promoting democracy and open government”.

Pakistan criticised the WikiLeaks release for highlighting concerns that enriched uranium could be diverted from its nuclear programme to build a secret weapon.

The documents could prove embarrassing for other countries allied with Pakistan as well – the king of Saudi Arabia reportedly called Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari the greatest obstacle to the country’s progress. “When the head is rotten, it affects the whole body,” he is quoted as saying, although a Pakistani official played down the reported comments.

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