After Diplomatic Cable Leaks, Clinton Heads for Potentially Difficult Meetings With Foreign Leaders

By Patrick Goodenough | November 30, 2010 | 4:49 AM EST

German Chancellor Angela Merkel meets with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Berlin in November 2009. She was described in leaked State Department cables as “tenacious but … risk averse and rarely creative.” Both Merkel and Clinton are due to attend an OSCE summit in Kazakhstan this week. (Photo: State Department)

( – Reaching out to foreign governments in the wake of the massive leak of confidential State Department cables, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says one foreign minister told her, “Don’t worry about it – you should see what we say about you.”

In the coming days, Clinton will see whether other governments are as sanguine, as her schedule brings her into contact with dozens of leaders, including some who feature in the first batch of cables released by WikiLeaks on Sunday.

Among them are Afghan President Hamid Karzai (described in one of the leaked U.S. cables as “driven by paranoia”), German Chancellor Angela Merkel (“can be tenacious but is risk averse and rarely creative”), Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (“plays Robin to [Prime Minister Vladimir] Putin’s Batman”), and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi (“feckless, vain and ineffective as a modern European leader” with a “penchant for partying hard.”)

Karzai, Merkel, Medvedev and Berlusconi are among 28 heads of state, ten heads of government and 15 or so foreign ministers due to attend a summit of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Kazakhstan.

Also present will be U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, whose “management and decision-making style” was among a long list of priority issues identified by Clinton in a leaked mid-2009 directive to U.S. missions to collate information about the world body and U.N. member states.

Then there is the host government itself. Leaked description by U.S. diplomats of the lifestyles of Kazakhstan’s leaders include a report that Elton John was flown in at the cost of one million dollars for a private birthday party for President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s son-in-law; and a note that the defense minister “appears to enjoy loosening up in the tried and true ‘homo sovieticus’ style – i.e., drinking oneself into a stupor.” 

Clinton leaves Washington Tuesday for Astana, where she will head the U.S. delegation at the OSCE summit and is also scheduled to hold talks with Nazarbayev, according to the State Department.

After visits to two other Central Asian Republics, Kyrgzstan and Uzbekistan, she travels to Bahrain, where an annual strategic forum starting Friday will bring her into contact with another set of leaders.

Clinton is scheduled to deliver the keynote address at the Manama Dialogue, an annual International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS)-hosted event whose participants this year include delegations from some 25 governments, many from the Middle East.

They include ministers or senior officials from Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait and other Gulf states whose candid views on the need for action against Iran’s nuclear activities have featured prominently in world media reports on the WikiLeaks data dump.

Also on the list of attendees released by the IISS is Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki. (Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told a press conference on Monday the cables were not “leaked” but deliberately released by the U.S. government for political purposes. He was dismissive of the notion that Gulf Arab states wanted military action against Iran.)

‘Leaks weaken U.S. diplomacy’

Other disclosures arising from the leaked cables that could cause Clinton discomfort in Bahrain include the belief of U.S. diplomats that donors in Saudi Arabia continue to be chief funders of al-Qaeda, and the revelation that U.S. officials had since 2007 been trying, without success, to remove enriched uranium from a Pakistani research reactor, concerned that it could be diverted for weapons use.

The government of Pakistan, which will be represented at the Manama conference by a senior army officer, issued a statement Monday in response to the leaked cables’ references to that country.

Foreign ministry spokesman Abdul Basit confirmed that Pakistan had rejected U.S. attempts to remove the nuclear fuel, and described as “completely incorrect” any suggestion that the reactor was producing uranium enriched to weapons grade.

Although many of the first batch of leaked cables related to countries in the Middle East there was little official reaction from Arab governments in the region on Monday.

One exception was Bahrain’s foreign minister, Khalid Bin Ahmad Al Khalifa, who in a message posted on Twitter said the leaks had “weakened diplomacy in general and US diplomacy in particular.”

“This is not good for global stability,” Dubai’s Gulf News quoted him as saying. “We need more diplomacy.”

The government of Jordan in a statement said the leaked cables did nothing to contradict the kingdom’s publicly-stated positions, including “rejection of any military action against Iran.”

A Saudi foreign ministry spokesman told the AFP news agency that the kingdom had no role in producing the documents, was not aware of their authenticity and could not comment, adding that “the kingdom’s policies and positions have always been clear.”


U.S. ambassadors in Islamabad and Kuwait City released near-identical op-eds expressing regret for the disclosure of any information that was intended to be confidential.

“I do believe that people of good faith recognize that diplomats’ internal reports do not represent a government’s official foreign policy,” the articles said.

“In the United States, they are one element out of many that shape our policies, which are ultimately set by the President and the Secretary of State. And those policies are a matter of public record, the subject of thousands of pages of speeches, statements, white papers, and other documents that the State Department makes freely available online and elsewhere.”

Speaking to reporters in Washington ahead of her trip, Clinton called the leaks an “attack” on U.S. foreign policy interests and “on the international community – the alliances and partnerships, the conversations and negotiations, that safeguard global security and advance economic prosperity.”

She expressed confidence that partnerships and relationships built by the Obama administration over the past 22 months would “withstand this challenge.”

Clinton said during her forthcoming trip she planned to “continue the conversations that I have started with some in person and over the phone over the last days, and I will seek out others because I want personally to impress upon them the importance that I place on the kind of open, productive discussions that we have had to date and my intention to continue working closely with them.”

Clinton told the briefing that in the conversations she has had over recent days, “at least one of my counterparts said to me, ‘Well, don’t worry about it. You should see what we say about you.’

“So I think that this is well understood in the diplomatic community as part of the give-and-take,” she said. “And I would hope that we will be able to move beyond this and back to the business of working together on behalf of our common goals.”

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow