Learning What Officials Really Think, Via WikiLeaks

While journalists and historians delve into diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks this week, some politicians are learning more about what U.S. ambassadors think about them. Turkey's foreign minister, Ahmed Davutoglu, says he didn't recognize himself in the cables. One described him as being "exceptionally dangerous" with Islamist and neo-Ottoman leanings. He got a personal apology from Secretary Clinton, and says he won't change Turkish foreign policy in any way. He says he comes away from his latest trip to Washington with a feeling that the U.S. now has a better understanding of him, despite the cables.

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It's been two days now since the website WikiLeaks began releasing thousands of American diplomatic cables, and politicians around the world are learning what U.S. diplomats really think of them.

NPR's Michele Kelemen reports on one man whose name has been coming up again and again.

MICHELE KELEMEN: Turkey's foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu says he didn't recognize himself in the cables. One dated December 2004 when he was a government advisor, said he was bringing Islamist views to Turkish foreign policy and was, quote, "exceptionally dangerous."

Mr. AHMET DAVUTOGLU (Foreign Minister, Turkey): I look to mirror, I didn't see any dangerous face.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DAVUTOGLU: A smiling face. And if you go to Balkans, to Middle East, to any society, you will see that we have excellent relations.

KELEMEN: A more recent cable suggested he had ambitions to revive Turkey's place in the world, drawing on the history of the Ottoman Empire.

Over breakfast today, the Turkish foreign minister said the U.S. should stop looking at his country this way, or arguing over whether Turkey is leaning more to the East or to the West. He says its geography demands the kind of foreign policy he's leading.

Mr. DAVUTOGLU: Countries like Turkey, right at the center of all events and at the center of the geopolitics of the world, will have a Western orientation, an Eastern orientation, a Northern orientation, a Southern orientation. We cannot ignore any of these dimension of foreign policy.

Therefore, I said we are self-confident. We know what we are doing. And we have a vision for our country.

KELEMEN: The WikiLeaks documents, though, show the U.S. is worried about where Turkey is heading. In January of this year, then-Ambassador James Jeffrey wrote that Turkey's more activist foreign policy is a mixed bag for the U.S.

Bulent Aliriza, who runs the Turkey program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, called it a perceptive cable.

Dr. BULENT ALIRIZA (Director, Turkey Project, Center for International and Strategic Studies): He specifically talks about how, in one sense, this is a blessing because it allows the U.S. to get messages across to governments that it doesn't have open channels of communication with, such as Tehran and Damascus. But at the same time, he argues that this will create problems for the U.S.

KELEMEN: The cable addresses diverging views between Washington and Ankara on Israel and on Iran. Alireza says U.S. diplomats seem to recognize that it will be hard to balance Turkey's increasing influence in the Islamic world and its commitment to the West.

Dr. ALIRIZA: And the fact that American diplomats have committed their thoughts to paper underlines the reality that there are differences between Washington and Ankara that simply cannot be washed away with rhetoric and expressions of good will.

KELEMEN: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her Turkish counterpart have been downplaying the impact these cables will have on relations. Davutoglu seemed satisfied with the personal apology he got yesterday from Secretary Clinton. He would not comment today on other revelations in these cables, such as the broad concern among Arab states about Iran's suspect nuclear program. He did sound worried about the prospect of a new cold war in the Middle East, though.

Mr. DAVUTOGLU: We understand their concerns. But we also have good relations with Iran and these are not two alternatives.

KELEMEN: He says he is still playing a role in trying to promote negotiations between Iran and a diplomatic grouping that includes the U.S., Europeans, Russia and China. Iran wanted the next meeting to be in Istanbul. Though it is to take place in Geneva next week instead, Davutoglu says he doesn't feel sidelined and will make sure Turkey continues to play whatever role it can in trying to promote a diplomatic solution.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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