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Quite a bit of what's come out from Wikileaks might seem like high-level gossip about some of the world's biggest players. Making public those often unflattering opinions along with political views that differ from official positions has left Secretary of State Hillary Clinton trying to limit the diplomatic fallout.
As Clinton characterizes it, the Wikileaks disclosure of classified State Department documents is an attack, not just on American foreign policy interests but on the international community. She says the U.S. partnerships will survive. What might change is how diplomats communicate.
Here's NPRs Michele Kelemen.
MICHELE KELEMEN: Theres an art to diplomatic cable writing and at times it's a bit like journalism. Thats the view of a retired diplomat, Ronald Neumann, who runs the American Academy of Diplomacy.
Mr. RONALD NEUMANN (American Academy of Diplomacy): The important things in writing a telegram, a cable, as we call it, are to convey important information succinctly, well written, and in a way that will catch the attention of a policy maker.
KELEMEN: That means a good headline and a summary for busy policy makers, and as weve seen in some of the leaked diplomatic cables, it could also include some colorful remarks about local politicians. Neumann has done his fair share of cable reading and writing over his long diplomatic career and says Americans shouldnt be surprised by the candor they see.
Mr. NEUMANN: I guess Im amused by the fact that people are finding it surprising that cables are frank. They think because we're not always frank in public that we cant be frank with each other. And the nature of the requirement of the diplomatic profession is to be sharp and focused and frank in your internal communications, because thats what your government depends on for making policy choices.
KELEMEN: But with hundreds of thousands of these frank assessments now coming to light - and embarrassing some key U.S. partners - diplomats might think twice about what they write.
Former ambassador to Iraq Christopher Hill says he certainly would be more cautious if he were still in government service.
Mr. CHRISTOPHER HILL (Dean, Josef Korbel School of International Studies, University of Denver): Frankly, it would have an effect on what I would put in the next cable. That is, I think I would be very, very careful about putting anything of any interest in telegrams for some time.
KELEMEN: Hill, who is now dean of the Joseph Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver, says the leaked documents could also put a chill on another important aspect of diplomatic work.
Mr. HILL: I have a feeling that they will have an impact in terms of American diplomats going out and trying to, you know, do their jobs; that is, try to have candid, frank discussions. You know, it's hard to have a senior official of a foreign government say things in front of a note-taker just to begin with, and now to worry that those notes will be not only be turned into a cable but the cable will be turned into a newspaper article is worrisome.
KELEMEN: Ambassador Neumann, who served most recently in Afghanistan, echoed that concern, saying the people named in these cables probably wont be speaking to U.S. embassy officials anytime soon.
Mr. NEUMANN: If a man says something about his mother-in-law to his wife and his wife goes and tells her mother about it, now, how do you think hes going to feel about talking to his wife? This is a human problem. People are embarrassed.
KELEMEN: And the State Department fears that they could also be put at risk. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says the disclosures of private conversations threaten not just relations with governments but contacts with a variety of people.
Secretary HILLARY CLINTON (U.S. Department of State): U.S. diplomats meet with local human rights workers, journalists, religious leaders, and others outside of governments who offer their own candid insights. These conversations also depend on trust and confidence.
KELEMEN: Trust that could be hard for U.S. ambassadors to restore now. Her spokesman says that she has sent a message to diplomats making clear that she values their work and their candid field reporting. She just needs to find a way to make sure their views are kept private.
Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.
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