State Department On Damage Control After Leaks
GUY RAZ, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Guy Raz.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
It is a diplomatic nightmare. The website WikiLeaks began releasing a quarter of a million confidential cables yesterday, cables written by U.S. officials at embassies and consulates around the world.
RAZ: The release includes a number of frank and potentially damaging assessments of world leaders. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is feckless, vain and ineffective.
SIEGEL: Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, as Robin to Vladimir Putin's Batman.
RAZ: And French President Nicolas Sarkozy, an emperor with no clothes.
SIEGEL: In a moment we'll read directly from some of the cables and ask a former ambassador for what these leaks mean for U.S. foreign relations.
But, first, NPR's Michele Kelemen reports on the State Department's efforts today at damage control.
MICHELE KELEMEN: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was sounding furious today that private diplomatic conversations so crucial to her work are now in the public domain. She called the disclosure by WikiLeaks an attack not just on America's foreign policy interests, but on U.S. alliances and partnerships.
Secretary HILLARY CLINTON (State Department): There is nothing laudable about endangering innocent people. And there is nothing brave about sabotaging the peaceful relations between nations on which our common security depends.
KELEMEN: Clinton says she's determined to limit the diplomatic fallout. Even before the document dump she was working the phones.
Sec. CLINTON: I am confident that the partnership that the Obama administration has worked so hard to build will withstand this challenge.
KELEMEN: An early test came today when she met Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. In one leaked cable from the U.S. embassy in Turkey, Davutoglu is described as having neo-Ottoman ambitions, a reference to the old Ottoman Empire and leading a more activist foreign policy that is a mixed bag for the U.S. Davutoglu and Secretary Clinton talked in private about this, but in public avoided questions.
Sec. CLINTON: Turkey and the United States have one of the most important bilateral relationships in the world.
Mr. AHMET DAVUTOGLU (Foreign Minister, Turkey): Our Turkish foreign policy is in principle, visionary, time-tested, transparent foreign policy, including our relations with the U.S.
KELEMEN: Many governments were doing their best to downplay the potential damage of these revelations. Germany's finance minister, who was described as a neurotic, angry old man in one dispatch, said he had no intention of even reading the documents. He says he never read the East German secret police files about him either. And Clinton says she thinks her outreach is going well.
Sec. CLINTON: In my conversations, at least one of my counterparts said to me, well, don't worry about it, you should see what we say about you.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Sec. CLINTON: So I think that this is well understood in the diplomatic community as part of the give and take.
KELEMEN: She can expect a lot more give and take about WikiLeaks as she sets off on her latest trip to Central Asia and to Bahrain, where she'll be meeting officials from many gulf Arab states. Some of them were quoted in cables as making some quite undiplomatic comments about Iran. Secretary Clinton says that shouldn't have been a surprise.
Sec. CLINTON: The comments that are being reported on, allegedly from the cables, confirm the fact that Iran poses a very serious threat in the eyes of many of her neighbors and a serious concern far beyond her region.
KELEMEN: Having such comments public could make diplomacy with Iran all the more difficult. Clinton is trying now to figure out ways to safeguard diplomatic cables while Attorney General Eric Holder is overseeing an investigation.
Mr. ERIC HOLDER (Attorney General): We have an active, ongoing criminal investigation with regard to this matter.
KELEMEN: The director of the Office of Management and Budget is ordering all government agencies that handle classified information to review their procedures to make sure this sort of theft doesn't happen again.
Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.
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