The US was forced into damage control mode toay by the WikiLeaks release of more than 250,000 classified government documents revealing unflattering assessments of world leaders and revelations about secret US 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 today.
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 problems 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.
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.”
US officials may also have to mend fences after revelations that they gathered personal information on other diplomats. The leaks cited American memos encouraging US diplomats at the United Nations to collect detailed data about the UN secretary general, his team and foreign diplomats – going beyond what is considered the normal run of information-gathering expected in diplomatic circles.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange claimed the Obama administration was trying to cover up alleged evidence of serious “human rights abuse and other criminal behaviour” by the US government. WikiLeaks posted the documents just hours after it claimed its website had been hit by a cyber attack that made the site inaccessible for much of the day.
But extracts of the more than 250,000 cables posted online by news outlets that had been given advance copies of the documents showed deep US concerns about Iranian and North Korean nuclear programmes along with fears about regime collapse in Pyongyang.
Those documents may prove the trickiest because even though the concerns of the Gulf Arab states are known, their leaders rarely offer such stark appraisals in public.