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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Im Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And Im Renee Montagne.

Again and again this week, we're getting glimpses into private moments around the world.

INSKEEP: Diplomatic documents released by WikiLeaks have let us in on the advice of kings and the opinions of diplomats who rarely speak in public.

MONTAGNE: Now we have the story of a private meeting involving two very public figures: American General David Petraeus met with the president of Yemen. They spoke of secret missile attacks on suspected terrorists.

INSKEEP: The country's president said he would continue to lie about them. That lie was giving the president cover to battle al-Qaida.

NPR's Dina Temple-Raston reports on what happens now that he's exposed.

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON: The meeting between General Petraeus and President Ali Abullah Saleh happened in January, just weeks after the U.S. had launched two air strikes in Yemen. The target - Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP. The strikes were controversial because there were civilian casualties

"We'll continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours," the cable quotes President Saleh as telling Petraeus. Then one of his aides interrupted and joked about Saleh lying to his own parliament about the strikes.

Professor GREGORY JOHNSEN (Near Eastern Studies, Princeton University): This something that won't necessarily surprise a great many people within the elite circles in Yemen.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Gregory Johnsen is a Yemen expert at Princeton University.

PROF. JOHNSEN: But when you get outside into some of the tribal areas where al-Qaida is really attempting to recruit people, having something like this where the president and his ministers are on record - as talking about lying and deceiving parliament and the Yemeni public - I think this will get a lot traction. And I think al-Qaida will be able to use it in the months to come.

TEMPLE-RASTON: That may be one of the unexpected consequences of the WikiLeaks release, providing more fodder for al-Qaida's recruitment efforts.

AQAP has accused the Yemeni government of corruption and says it is insufficiently Islamic. The cables, in a way, help bolster their case. One of them describes an exchange between the Yemeni president and the Obama's administration's counterterrorism Chief, John Brennan.

The Yemeni president complains about smuggling from a nearby country, Djibouti. He worries about illegal drugs and weapons. But says he's willing to turn a blind eye to smuggled whiskey, provided its good whiskey, he says. Then he laughs. Whiskey, like all alcoholic beverages, is forbidden by Islam.

Again, Gregory Johnsen.

PROF. JOHNSEN: One of the issues that al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula has had with the Yemeni government, is that it claims over and over, that the Yemen government doesn't uphold what it calls Sharia law or Islamic law. So for them to be able to position the president as someone who drinks whiskey, who jokes about whiskey, this will be something that really fits seamlessly into the narrative that they've been peddling for the past several years.

Dr. CHRISTOPHER BOUCEK (Associate, Middle East Program, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace): I'm Christopher Boucek and I'm an associate in the Middle East Program, at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Boucek says al-Qaida won't even need to do much to get that message out. He expects the president's comments will come up in what are basically the Yemeni equivalent of afternoon tea in England. They call them. They call them khat chews.

Yemenis chew a stimulant called khat every afternoon, and that's when they share the news of the day and talk politics.

Dr. BOUCEK: The fact that every day there is a built in block of hours, you know, during khat chews for people to get together and talk and discuss, I'm sure this will be the essential part of discussions for khat chews for, you know, the coming weeks.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Will Yemenis understand what the cables are?

Dr. BOUCEK: I doubt that very many Yemenis are going to appreciate that this is how the State Department does business. But that's not really the point. I think the point is, this portrays a relationship that most Yemenis, I think, are ready to believe. You know, and this backs up those suspicions.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Suspicions that the Yemeni government is doing America's bidding, and that the U.S. has been stepping up its presence there,

Dina Temple-Raston, NPR News.

INSKEEP: By the way, Yemen's foreign ministry calls the leaked cables inaccurate.

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