‘No comment’ - leaders bunker down under WikiLeaks deluge (Roundup)

Monday, November 29, 2010

WASHINGTON - Governments around the world were struggling Monday to digest and react to the detail of more than 250,000 leaked US diplomatic documents - with more revelations threatened in the weeks to come.

The most common reaction from capitals around the world was to stonewall, with officials and diplomats urging a “wait and see” approach as they ploughed through the cables.

However, almost universally, WikiLeaks, and its founder Julian Assange, were criticized for putting delicate international relations - and secrets - at risk.

The most damaging revelations so far - published by The Guardian (Britain), Der Spiegel (Germany), El Pais (Spain), Le Monde (France) and New York Times (US) - are about US attempts to spy on the UN, fears of nuclear proliferation from Pakistan, mafia links to the Russian administration, plus countless undiplomatic evaluations of world leaders from Angela Merkel to Moamer Gadaffi.

In India - about which more than 3,000 cables were leaked - a government spokesman conceded that Delhi had been warned in advance by Washington that they would be mentioned in the leaks.

“We were warned by the US that such documents were going to be released. We have good bilateral relations with the US. This is a sensitive issue and I won’t comment on it till we know more,” Minister of State for External Affairs Preneet Kaur told reporters.

In Pakistan, a government spokesman denied the claims made in the reports that the US was engaged in a desperate struggle to remove nuclear materials from the country before they fell into the hands of terrorists and Islamists.

“I condemn this. Such sensitive documents should not have been disclosed this way,” said Abdul Basit, a spokesman of Pakistan’s foreign ministry.

“The context of these documents show very clearly that Pakistani leadership knows very well how to defend its nuclear programme. We have very well guarded our national interests and will keep on doing so in the coming years,” said Basit.

Whilst Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was reported to have “laughed off” criticism that he was “feckless, vain and ineffective”, according to one of his ministers, the reaction of another target of US criticism, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was more typical.

The leaks were “questionable … that’s why we’re waiting to see what comes from WikiLeaks. Then we can evaluate it and give an opinion”, Erdogan said before leaving Istanbul for a summit in Libya.

Erdogan was described as surrounded by sycophants, lacking “vision” and “analytic depth” in the cables, with suggestions his cabinet was more Islamist than was internationally-recognised.

In Russia, whose Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was described as an “alpha dog” compared with the “pale and hesitant” President Dmitry Medvedev, spokesman Dmitry Peskov joined the ranks of those refusing to comment, calling it “premature” until the documents had been analysed.

That story was largely echoed in Paris, Berlin and other capitals who leaders had been unflatteringly described.

One notable exception was Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose country was reportedly recommended by Saudi Arabia for bombing over its disputed nuclear programme.

“We do not bother to take these documents seriously and they will have no impact on our relations (with Saudi Arabia and Bahrain),” he told a news conference.

“These documents follow certain political aims and are some sort of intelligence game and therefore without any legal basis,” he added.

In Israel, the government in Tel Aviv refused point blank to comment on the leaks - although the country’s media pointed out that several damaging allegations about Iran could only help Israel.

In Europe - away from the world’s hotspots - the reaction was also muted.

In Berlin, whose Chancellor Merkel was described as “not very creative” and whose Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle was called “aggressive”, there was no direct reaction from the individuals concerned.

Government spokesman Steffen Seibert instead told reporters that the relationship between Berlin and Washington was “robust, close and in no way clouded by this publication”.

Berlin nevertheless “regrets the publication of these confidential reports”, he added.

In London, the prime minister’s spokesman condemned the publication as “damaging to national security in the United States and in Britain, and elsewhere”.

“It’s important that governments are able to operate on the basis of confidentiality of information,” he added.

But asked if David Cameron was offended by the material contained in the leaks, he added: “We are not going to get drawn into the detail of the documents.”

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