Last Updated: Mon Nov 29, 2010 22:24 pm (KSA) 19:24 pm (GMT)

Leaks underline world’s concern about Iran: Clinton

 

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Monday said the content of the massive U.S. document leak by WikiLeaks underlines broad world concern over Iran's nuclear program.

"Any of the comments that are being reported on allegedly from the cables confirm the fact that Iran poses a very serious threat in the eyes of many of her neighbors and a serious concern far beyond her region," Clinton said.

The chief U.S. diplomat told a press briefing that widespread global unease about Iran was reflected in Washington's ability last June to garner international support for a fourth round of U.N. Security Council sanctions against Tehran.

People reading the cables will conclude "that the concern about Iran is well-founded (and) widely-shared," said Clinton, who said Washington would continue to pursue policies "with like-minded nations to try to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons."

US to tighten security

The White House ordered tighter security on Monday to prevent leaks like the release of more than 250,000 State Department cables that have embarrassed the U.S. government and some of its allies.

Sunday's release of documents obtained by the whistleblower website WikiLeaks exposed the inner workings of U.S. diplomacy in recent years, including candid assessments of world leaders and disclosures on issues such as Iran's nuclear and missile programs.

U.S. authorities also were conducting a criminal investigation of the leak of classified documents, which WikiLeaks provided to five media groups that published reports on them, the Justice Department said on Monday.

The White House, which harshly condemned the release and said the disclosures may endanger U.S. informants abroad, ordered government agencies to tighten procedures for handling classified information.

The new procedures would ensure "that users do not have broader access than is necessary to do their jobs effectively," and would put restrictions on the handling of classified material, according to a directive from the White House Office of Management and Budget released on Monday.

US tries to contain the damage

The release of more than 250,000 classified State Department documents forced the Obama administration into damage control, trying to contain fallout from unflattering assessments of world leaders and revelations about backstage U.S. diplomacy.

Hundreds of thousands of State Department documents leaked Sunday revealed a hidden world of backstage international diplomacy, divulging candid comments from world leaders and detailing occasional U.S. pressure tactics aimed at hot spots in Afghanistan, Iran and North Korea.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was expected to address the diplomatic repercussions on Monday. Clinton could deal with the impact first hand after she leaves Washington on a four-nation tour of Central Asia and the Middle East -- a region that figures prominently in the leaked documents.

The classified diplomatic cables reported on by news organizations in the United States and Europe provided often unflattering assessments of foreign leaders, ranging from U.S. allies such as Germany and Italy to other nations like Libya, Iran and Afghanistan.

The cables also contained new revelations about long-simmering nuclear trouble spots, detailing U.S., Israeli and Arab world fears of Iran's growing nuclear program, American concerns about Pakistan's atomic arsenal and U.S. discussions about a united Korean peninsula as a long-term solution to North Korean aggression.

There are also American memos encouraging U.S. diplomats at the United Nations to collect detailed data about the U.N. secretary general, his team and foreign diplomats -- going beyond what is considered the normal run of information-gathering expected in diplomatic circles.

None of the revelations is particularly explosive, but their publication could prove problematic for the officials concerned. And the massive release of material intended for diplomatic eyes only is sure to ruffle feathers in foreign capitals, a certainty that prompted U.S. diplomats to scramble in recent days to shore up relations with key allies in advance of the disclosures.

Washington's behind-the-scene conduct

 The cables show the U.S. spying on its allies and the U.N.; turning a blind eye to corruption and human rights abuse in 'client states'; backroom deals with supposedly neutral countries and lobbying for U.S. corporations 
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange

The documents published by The New York Times, France's Le Monde, Britain's Guardian newspaper, German magazine Der Spiegel and others laid out the behind-the-scenes conduct of Washington's international relations, shrouded in public by platitudes, smiles and handshakes at photo sessions among senior officials.

In a statement released Sunday, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said, "The cables show the U.S. spying on its allies and the U.N.; turning a blind eye to corruption and human rights abuse in 'client states'; backroom deals with supposedly neutral countries and lobbying for U.S. corporations."

Their release -- the first in a series of planned releases over the next few months -- "reveals the contradictions between the U.S.'s public persona and what it says behind closed doors," Assange said.

The White House immediately condemned the release of the WikiLeaks documents, saying "such disclosures put at risk our diplomats, intelligence professionals, and people around the world who come to the United States for assistance in promoting democracy and open government."

"These cables could compromise private discussions with foreign governments and opposition leaders, and when the substance of private conversations is printed on the front pages of newspapers across the world, it can deeply impact not only U.S. foreign policy interests, but those of our allies and friends around the world," the White House said.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley played down the spying allegations. "Our diplomats are just that, diplomats," he said. "They collect information that shapes our policies and actions. This is what diplomats, from our country and other countries, have done for hundreds of years."

"Reckless action"

 These cables could compromise private discussions with foreign governments and opposition leaders, and when the substance of private conversations is printed on the front pages of newspapers across the world, it can deeply impact not only U.S. foreign policy interests, but those of our allies and friends around the world 
The White House

Democratic Senator John Kerry, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, called the release a "reckless action which jeopardizes lives" and rejected Assange's claims to be acting in the public interest.

"This is not an academic exercise about freedom of information and it is not akin to the release of the Pentagon Papers, which involved an analysis aimed at saving American lives and exposing government deception," he added, referring to a secret history of the Vietnam War leaked in 1971.

U.S. Republican congressman Peter King, the ranking member of the House of Representatives' Homeland Security Committee, urged the attorney general to prosecute WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange for espionage.

The latest release "manifests Mr Assange's purposeful intent to damage not only our national interests in fighting the war on terror, but also undermines the very safety of coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan."

He went on to urge the State Department to designate WikiLeaks a "Foreign Terrorist Organization," saying it "posed a clear and present danger to the national security of the United States," in a statement from his office.

"Existential threat"

On its website, The New York Times said "the documents serve an important public interest, illuminating the goals, successes, compromises and frustrations of American diplomacy in a way that other accounts cannot match."

The Guardian said some cables showed King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia urged the United States to destroy Iran's nuclear program even by a military action. The newspaper also said officials in Jordan and Bahrain have openly called for Iran's nuclear program to be stopped by any means and that leaders of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt referred to Iran "as 'evil,' an 'existential threat' and a power that 'is going to take us to war,'" The Guardian said.

The Times cited cables that showed Yemen's president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, telling Gen. David Petraeus that his country would pretend that American missile strikes against a local al-Qaeda group had come from Yemen's forces.

The documents were again available on the WikiLeaks website Sunday afternoon. The site was inaccessible much of the day and the group claimed it was under a cyber attack.

The release documents also said that Israel discussed its planned war on Gaza with the Palestinian leadership and Egypt ahead of time, offering to hand them control of the strip if it defeated Hamas.

"He (Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak) explained that the GOI (government of Israel) had consulted with Egypt and Fatah prior to Operation Cast Lead, asking if they were willing to assume control of Gaza once Israel defeated Hamas," the documents said, referring to the Fatah party of Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas.

"Not surprisingly, Barak said, the GOI received negative answers from both," it said.

"Gaming out" NKorea's collapse

The Times highlighted documents that indicated the U.S. and South Korea were "gaming out an eventual collapse of North Korea" and discussing the prospects for a unified country if the isolated, communist North's economic troubles and political transition lead it to implode.

The Times also cited diplomatic cables describing unsuccessful U.S. efforts to prod Pakistani officials to remove highly enriched uranium from a reactor out of fears that the material could be used to make an illicit atomic device.

The paper also reported on documents showing the U.S. used hardline tactics to win approval from countries to accept freed detainees from Guantanamo Bay. It said Slovenia was told to take a prisoner if its president wanted to meet with President Barack Obama and said the Pacific island of Kiribati was offered millions of dollars to take in a group of detainees.

It also cited a cable from the U.S. Embassy in Beijing that included allegations from a Chinese contact that China's Politburo directed a cyber intrusion into Google's computer systems as part of a "coordinated campaign of computer sabotage carried out by government operatives, private security experts and Internet outlaws."

Le Monde said another memo asked U.S. diplomats to collect basic contact information about U.N. officials that included Internet passwords, credit card numbers and frequent flyer numbers. They were asked to obtain fingerprints, ID photos, DNA and iris scans of people of interest to the United States, Le Monde said.

The Obama administration has been bracing for the release for the past week. Top officials have notified allies that the contents of the diplomatic cables could prove embarrassing because they contain candid assessments of foreign leaders and their governments, as well as details of American policy.

Freedom of press

The State Department's top lawyer warned Assange late Saturday that lives and military operations would be put at risk if the cables were released. Legal adviser Harold Koh said WikiLeaks would be breaking the law if it went ahead. He also rejected a request from Assange to cooperate in removing sensitive details from the documents.

In a session Sunday with a group of Arab journalists, Assange said, "The State Department understands that we are a responsible organization, so it is trying to make it as hard as it can for us to publish responsibly."

He called the Obama administration "a regime that doesn't believe in the freedom of the press and doesn't act like it believes it."

The New York Times said the documents involved 250,000 cables -- the daily message traffic between the State Department and more than 270 U.S. diplomatic outposts around the world. The newspaper said that in its reporting, it attempted to exclude information that would endanger confidential informants or compromise national security.

The Times said that after its own redactions, it sent Obama administration officials the cables it planned to post and invited them to challenge publication of any information they deemed would harm the national interest. After reviewing the cables, the officials suggested additional redactions, the Times said. The newspaper said it agreed to some, but not all.

Also Sunday, the Pentagon released a summary of precautions taken since WikiLeaks published stolen war logs from the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Since August, the Pentagon has changed the way portable computer storage devices such as flash drives can be used with classified systems, and made it harder for one person acting alone to download material from a classified network and place it on an unclassified one.

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