BY KATE WOODSOME – Senior officials from Washington to Australia to Pakistan are responding with alarm to the latest release of thousands of classified U.S. documents by the online whistleblowing group WikiLeaks. But some officials are looking at the uncensored view of America’s diplomatic corps as a window into how the U.S. State Department sees the world.
Pakistani newspapers splashed the news across its front pages Monday, a day after the leaks revealed damning characterizations of Pakistan and its president, Asif Ali Zardari. Saudi King Abdullah is quoted in one cable calling Mr. Zardari the greatest obstacle to Pakistan’s progress. In the document, the king says, “When the head is rotten, it affects the whole body.”
Mr. Zardari’s spokesman accused WikiLeaks of damaging Pakistan’s relations with Saudi Arabia, and said President Zardari considers King Abdullah as his elder brother.
The cables also cast Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a negative light, suggesting he is sympathetic to Islamists and knows little of the world outside Ankara. Mr. Erdogan said that he would wait to find out more information before announcing his reaction.
“Let’s first see exactly what WikiLeaks is hiding under its skirt. Then we will see if the claims are serious or not,” the Turkish leader told reporters in Ankara Monday. “The credibility of WikiLeaks is under suspicion, so for now we are waiting to see what they have and then we will make the appropriate announcement.”
For Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the diplomatic leak was positive. He said Monday that Israel has not been damaged by the leak and, if anything, its concerns about Iran have been validated. The documents underscore the concern of Arab countries about Iran. In one, Saudi Arabia urges the U.S. to carry out military strikes to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear bomb, a stance also advocated by Israel.
The contents of the leaked cables also drew some praise from some U.S. allies. Jonathan Powell, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s chief of staff, said that as a diplomat it was fascinating to read the private correspondence of his counterparts. Powell said that overall, the documents show that American envoys are well-connected and well-informed about political issues abroad.
The British government has formally condemned the leak. And France quickly pledged support for the Obama administration as it moved into damage-control mode after the inner thoughts of its diplomatic corps spilled into an open discussion about America’s friends and foes.
Australian Attorney-General Robert McClelland announced Monday that his government is investigating whether the leak broke any of the country’s laws.
“The release of this information could prejudice the safety of people referred to in the documentation and indeed could be damaging to the national security interests of the United States and its allies including Australia,” McClelland told reporters. So, obviously, Australia will support any law enforcement action that may be taken.”
One of the cables, from the U.S. embassy in Zimbabwe, described Australia as a “rock solid” ally, but said it did not have enough influence to affect events in that country.
McClelland said he has set up a task force to determine, and deal with, the impact of the leaks. Of the quarter-million documents released, about 1,400 mention Australia, with 1,000 cables originating from the U.S. embassy in Canberra.
“I’ve asked the Australian Federal Police to look at the issue as to whether any Australian laws have been breached as a specific issue as well,” McClelland said.
The founder of Wikileaks, Julian Assange, is an Australian citizen. McClelland said federal police are looking into whether Assange broke any criminal laws. However, he said he had no knowledge of reports that the United States has asked Australia to revoke Assange’s passport.