By Scott Shane and Andrew W Lehren
A cache of a quarter-million confidential US diplomatic cables, most of them from the past three years, provides an unprecedented look at backroom bargaining by embassies around the world, brutally candid views of foreign leaders and frank assessments of nuclear and terrorist threats.
Some of the cables, made available to The New York Times, were written as recently as late February, revealing the Obama administration's exchanges over crises and conflicts. The material was originally obtained by WikiLeaks, an organisation devoted to revealing secret documents. WikiLeaks intends to make the archive public on its Website in batches, beginning Sunday.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and US ambassadors around the world have been contacting foreign officials in recent days to alert them to the expected disclosures. On Saturday, the State Department’s legal adviser, Harold Hongju Koh, wrote to a lawyer for WikiLeaks informing the organisation that the distribution of the cables was illegal and could endanger lives, disrupt military and counterterrorism operations and undermine international cooperation against nuclear proliferation and other threats. The cables, a huge sampling of the daily traffic between the State Department and some 270 embassies and consulates, amount to a secret chronicle of the US’ relations with the world in an age of war and terrorism. Some of the revelations are:
Standoff with Pak over nuclear fuel
Since 2007, the US has mounted a highly secret effort, so far unsuccessful, to remove from a Pakistani research reactor highly enriched uranium that US officials fear could be diverted for use in an illicit nuclear device. In May 2009, Ambassador Anne W Patterson reported that Pakistan was refusing to schedule a visit by US technical experts because, as a Pakistani official said, “if the local media got word of the fuel removal, ‘they certainly would portray it as the US taking Pakistan’s nuclear weapons,’ he argued.”
US and South Korean officials have discussed the prospects for a unified Korea, should the North’s economic troubles and political transition lead the state to implode. The South Koreans even considered commercial inducements to China, according to the US ambassador to Seoul. She told Washington in February that South Korean officials believe that the right business deals would “help salve” China’s “concerns about living with a reunified Korea” that is in a “benign alliance” with the US.
Bargaining to empty the Gitmo
When US diplomats pressed other countries to resettle detainees, they became reluctant players in a State Department version of “Let’s Make a Deal.” Slovenia was told to take a prisoner if it wanted to meet with President Obama, while the island nation of Kiribati was offered incentives worth millions of dollars to take in a group of detainees, cables from diplomats recounted. The Americans, meanwhile, suggested that accepting more prisoners would be “a low-cost way for Belgium to attain prominence in Europe.”
Suspicions of Afghan corruption
When Afghanistan’s Vice-President visited the United Arab Emirates last year, local authorities working with the Drug Enforcement Administration discovered that he was carrying $52 million in cash. With wry understatement, a cable from the US Embassy in Kabul called the money “a significant amount” that the official, Ahmed Zia Massoud, “was ultimately allowed to keep without revealing the money’s origin or destination.” (Massoud denies taking any money out of Afghanistan.)
A global hacking effort
China’s Politburo directed the intrusion into Google’s computer systems in that country, a Chinese contact told the American Embassy in Beijing in January, one cable reported. The Google hacking was part of a coordinated campaign of computer sabotage carried out by government operatives, private security experts and Internet outlaws recruited by the Chinese government. They have broken into US government computers and those of Western allies, the Dalai Lama and American businesses since 2002, cables said.
Mixed records against terror
Saudi donors remain the chief financiers of Sunni militant groups like al-Qaeda, and the tiny Persian Gulf state of Qatar, a generous host to the US military for years, was the “worst in the region” in counterterrorism efforts, according to a State Department cable last December. Qatar’s security service was “hesitant to act against known terrorists out of concern for appearing to be aligned with the US and provoking reprisals,” the cable said.
An intriguing alliance
US diplomats in Rome reported in 2009 on what their Italian contacts described as an extraordinarily close relationship between Vladimir V Putin, the Russian Prime Minister, and Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian Prime Minister and business magnate, including “lavish gifts,” lucrative energy contracts and a “shadowy” Russian-speaking Italian go-between. They wrote that Berlusconi “appears increasingly to be the mouthpiece of Putin” in Europe. The diplomats also noted that while Putin enjoys supremacy over all other public figures in Russia, he is undermined by an unmanageable bureaucracy that often ignores his edicts.
Arms deliveries to militants
Cables describe the US’ failing struggle to prevent Syria from supplying arms to Hezbollah in Lebanon, which has amassed a huge stockpile since its 2006 war with Israel. One week after President Bashar al-Assad promised a top State Department official that he would not send “new” arms to Hezbollah, the US complained that it had information that Syria was providing increasingly sophisticated weapons to the group.
Clashes with Europe over rights
US officials sharply warned Germany in 2007 not to enforce arrest warrants for Central Intelligence Agency officers involved in a bungled operation in which an innocent German citizen with the same name as a suspected militant was mistakenly kidnapped and held for months in Afghanistan. A senior US diplomat told a German official “that our intention was not to threaten Germany, but rather to urge that the German government weigh carefully at every step of the way the implications for relations with the US.”
Saudi King on Zardari, Iraq PM
The cables also disclose frank comments behind closed doors. Dispatches from early this year, for instance, quote the aging monarch of Saudi Arabia, King Abdullah, as speaking scathingly about the leaders of Iraq and Pakistan. Speaking to another Iraqi official about Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, the Iraqi Prime Minister, King Abdullah said, “You and Iraq are in my heart, but that man is not.” The king called President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan the greatest obstacle to that country’s progress. “When the head is rotten,” he said, “it affects the whole body.”
As he left Zimbabwe in 2007 after three years as ambassador, Christopher W Dell wrote a sardonic account of Robert Mugabe, that country’s aging and erratic leader. The cable called Mugabe “a brilliant tactician” but mocked “his deep ignorance on economic issues (coupled with the belief that his 18 doctorates give him the authority to suspend the laws of economics).”
The 251,287 cables, first acquired by WikiLeaks, were provided to The Times by an intermediary on the condition of anonymity. Many are unclassified, and none are marked “top secret,” the government's most secure communications status. But some 11,000 are classified "secret," 9,000 are labelled “noforn,” shorthand for material considered too delicate to be shared with any foreign government, and 4,000 are designated both secret and noforn.
Ahead of the leak, WikiLeaks claimed it was under a cyber attack. In a Twitter message, the whistleblower website said, “We are currently under a mass distributed denial of service attack.”
Around the world, distress over Iran
In late May 2009, Israel's defense minister, Ehud Barak, used a visit from a Congressional delegation to send a pointed message to the new American president.
In a secret cable sent back to Washington, the American ambassador to Israel, James B. Cunningham, reported that Barak had argued that the world had 6 to 18 months "in which stopping Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons might still be viable." After that, Barak said, "any military solution would result in unacceptable collateral damage."
There was little surprising in Barak's implicit threat that Israel might attack Iran's nuclear facilities. As a pressure tactic, Israeli officials have been setting such deadlines, and extending them, for years. But six months later it was an Arab leader, the king of Bahrain, who provides the base for the American Fifth Fleet, telling the Americans that the Iranian nuclear program "must be stopped," according to another cable. "The danger of letting it go on is greater than the danger of stopping it," he said.
His plea was shared by many of America's Arab allies, including the powerful King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, who according to another cable repeatedly implored Washington to "cut off the head of the snake" while there was still time.
These warnings are part of a trove of diplomatic cables reaching back to the genesis of the Iranian nuclear standoff in which leaders from around the world offer their unvarnished opinions about how to negotiate with, threaten and perhaps force Iran's leaders to renounce their atomic ambitions.
The cables also contain a fresh American intelligence assessment of Iran's missile program. They reveal for the first time that the United States believes that Iran has obtained advanced missiles from North Korea that could let it strike at Western European capitals and Moscow and help it develop more formidable long-range ballistic missiles.
The cables, obtained by WikiLeaks and made available to a number of news organizations, tell the disparate diplomatic back stories of two administrations pressed from all sides to confront Tehran. They show how President George W. Bush, hamstrung by the complexities of Iraq and suspicions that he might attack Iran, struggled to put together even modest sanctions.
They also offer new insights into how President Obama, determined to merge his promise of "engagement" with his vow to raise the pressure on the Iranians, assembled a coalition that agreed to impose an array of sanctions considerably harsher than any before attempted.
Source: Indian Express