Reaction across the globe to the leaked US embassy cables has ranged from anger and bitterness to extreme indifference
President Lula says he is to register his protest at Assange's arrest on his blog. "This chap was only publishing something he read," he said. "And if he read it, it is because somebody wrote it. The guilty one is not the publisher, it is the person who wrote [these things]. Blame the person who wrote this nonsense because there would be no scandal if they hadn't." Many leaks relate to the security situation in Rio de Janeiro. A 2009 cable warned that pre-Olympic attempts to expel drug traffickers from some of the city's most violent favelas could resemble "the battles in Fallujah more than a conventional urban police operation".
In Argentina the Wikileaks revelations have focused on apparent US concern about a new invasion of the Falklands islands and over president Cristina Kirchner mental health. In one cable Hillary Clintonmused over whether the current occupant of the Casa Rosada was "taking any medications."
"How do Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner's emotions affect her decision-making and how does she calm down when distressed?" one cable asked diplomats in the Argentine capital.
The English-language Buenos Aires Herald, however, pointed out that "the snickering about the President's mental health comes at a time [when] she is perceived by much of the public, including those who oppose her, as having shown tremendous strength immediately after her husband's death."
Venezuela's president, Hugo Chavez, has called on Hillary Clinton to resign in the wake of "all of this spying and delinquency in the State Department".
"Look at how they treat the leaders of powerful countries," Chavez told state TV channel Telesur, describing the cables as proof of the "dirty war of Yankee embassies in the whole world".
"Look how they are mistreating this great friend of ours, Vladimir Putin. What a lack of respect!"
Ecuador and Bolivia
The Ecuadorian government has been Wikileaks' most vocal supporter in the region, offering the under-fire Julian Assange residency "without any conditions". Bolivia has also expressed its irritation at its portrayal in the US diplomatic cables. The country's vice-president, Alvaro Garcia Linera, this week posted Bolivia-focused Wikileaks cables, in full, on his official website in response to what he called "insults" and "third rate espionage".
US authorities have been lampooned by much of the Bolivian press.
Juan José Toro Montoya, a columnist for the Cochabamba newspaper Los Tiempos newspaper described the accusations against Wikileaks' founder as "laughable".
"Julian Assange may be under arrest but he has been transformed into a hero and will go down in history as being the first human being to massively reveal the dirty-tricks of government," he wrote yesterday.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad dismissed the Wikileaks revelations as "psychological warfare." Iran's foreign ministry spokesman thundered: "The enemies of the Islamic world are pursuing a project of Iranophobia and disunity. This project only protects the interests of the Zionist regime and its supporters." Still, the documents will reinforce the regime's world view by underlining the huge effort being made by the US to contain Iran by applying pressure for UN sanctions over its nuclear programme or stopping arms deliveries to groups like Hamas and Hizbullah. It will be harder to maintain the pretence of good relations with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states because of exposure of their fear of Tehran. Iran remains defiant and is not as isolated as Washington would like. It is influential in Iraq and has good relations with Turkey. It is clear that Barack Obama's efforts to reach out to it have failed, with some arguing he was never serious about engagement. The status quo looks volatile and threatening.
Israel has been largely untroubled by because US views on key Middle Eastern issues especially on Iran, Syria and Lebanon, are so close to its own. "Israel is not the centre of international attention," said Binyamin Netanyahu. "Normally, there's a gap between what is said publicly and what is said privately, but in this case, the gap is not large." The most significant revelation was that Israel believes that beyond a certain point attacking Iran would cause too much "collateral damage."Israel can be seen maintaining discreet contact with Gulf states and have an intriguing intelligence link to Saudi Arabia. It suits Israel that the Palestinian issue and Jewish settlements in the occupied territories do not feature prominently. The Palestinian Authority denied suggestions it acquiesced in Israel's war on Hamas in Gaza.
Saudi Arabia's only public comment on the revelations was to say "they do not concern us" despite the sensational exposure of comments made by King Abdullah about attacking Iran "to cut off the head of the snake." It will be unhappy about US complaints that it remains a source of funding for the Taliban and other extremists. It may be pleased its counter-terrorist efforts against al-Qaida, at home and in neighbouring Yemen, have been given positive exposure. There is little evidence of US pressure over human rights and democracy.
Ever volatile Lebanon has been shaken by documents showing close links between the pro-western government and the US. The most damaging revelation described its defence minister offering advice on how Israel could defeat Hezbollah if a new war erupted. But Elias Murr complained that the cables were "inaccurate" and taken out of context. Tensions are already high because of expectations Hizbullah members will be indicted for the 2005 murder of Rafiq al-Hariri. Al-Akhbar, a leftist and pro-Hizbullah paper that has published leaks of the leaks about the Arab world, has come under cyber attack.
Syria has not responded officially to disclosures that it is the subject of intense US efforts to stop deliveries of weapons to Hezbollah. Syrians say they are struck by the absence of embarrassing information about Israel. Sami Moubayed, an influential commentator, wrote: "Perhaps WikiLeaks will one day tell us, for example, what the Israelis are hiding about the pre-Bush era." Damascus insists it only supports resistance to Israel and blames it for ramping up regional tensions. Ample evidence of American strategy to weaken the alliance between Damascus and Tehran, but there is no sign that it has worked.
Yemen's government has faced embarrassing questions in parliament about evidence ministers lied about US air strikes against al-Qaida targets. Cables revealed President Ali Abdullah Saleh is worried about being painted as an American pawn and restricts counter-terrorist cooperation even as Washington presses for more determined action. Opposition MP Mansur al Zindani complained of a "powerful blow to parliament and the public." There are fears the revelations could help al-Qaida win new recruits in the Arab world's poorest country.
Muammar Gaddafi praised WikiLeaks for exposing US "hypocrisy." The whistleblowing website has "proved America is not what it has led allies and friends to believe it to be." There was no comment on threats against Britain if the Lockerbie bomber, Abdel-Basset al-Megrahi, died in prison in Scotland.
Revelations about Egypt – some leaked to the independent newspaper al-Masry al-Youm — have been dismissed by Cairo as containing "nothing new." But they include evidence of its fears about Sudan breaking up, President Mubarak's profound hostility to Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah, and bleak US assessments of future prospects for democracy, including the prediction that Mubarak, now 82, will stand for yet another term next year. The recent parliamentary elections, widely dismissed as a charade, tend to confirm US views.
President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali will be furious at cables describing high-level corruption, a sclerotic regime, and deep hatred of his wife and her family. Deeply unflattering reports from the US ambassador in Tunis make no bones about the state of the small Maghreb country, widely considered one of the most repressive in North Africa. No surprise that Tunisia blocked the website of Beirut's al-Akhbar, which published some of the documents.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan reacted furiously to US diplomatic cables that suggested he was a corrupt closet Islamist. As Turkey heads for elections next year, secular Republican opponents may try to exploit his evident discomfort.
The cables highlighted three principal issues. Erdogan's personal probity – he was reported to have eight secret Swiss bank accounts; the supposed Islamist agenda of the ruling AKP party; and Turkey's perceived drift away from the western alliance and closer embrace of countries such as Syria and Iran.
Erdogan's response was both to dismiss the cables as tittle-tattle, and to conjure conspiracy theories."The un-serious cables of American diplomats, formed from gossip, magazines, allegations and slander are spreading worldwide via the internet," Erdogan said. "Are there disclosures of state secrets, or is there another aim?" he askedd. "… Is it carrying out a veiled, dark propaganda? Are there efforts to affect, manipulate relations between certain countries?"
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin gave the sharpest response to the WikiLeaks cables in which he was protrayed as Batman to Dmitry Medvedev's Robin. "Slander", he called it. The embassy cables portray Russia as a corrupt kleptocracy where politicians and criminals were inextricably linked. Medvedev has said that the cables "show a full measure of cynicism" in US foreign policy making. But he suggested the leaks would not damage relations between Moscow and WashingtonSergei Lavrov, the foreign minister, claimed to be surprised that "some petty thieves running around the Internet" are causing such a sensation. In reality, the cables have caused lasting damage in Russia, playing to the deep mistrust of US intentions that imbues Kremlin policy making.
The cables revealed a battle of wits and mutual dissembling between Warsaw and Washington over US military aid to Poland, missile defence, and attitudes towards Russia. While the Poles welcomed secret Nato plans for the defence of the three Baltic states, they worried the new plan would dilute Nato security guarantees for Poland.
The disclosures appear to be sparking a sober re-assessment in Warsaw of the closeness of the relationship with Washington.
Prime Minister Donald Tusk sounded bitter and disenchanted on Tuesday after the Guardian published material on Poland.
"We have a really serious problem," he said. "Not with image, as some countries do, and not reputation, like the US does. It's a problem of being stripped of illusions about the nature of relations between countries, including such close allies as Poland and the US."
La Repubblica, one of Italy's best-selling dailies, on Wednesday carried the first in a series of articles examining the relationship between Silvio Berlusconi and Russia's prime minister, Vladimir Putin, in the light of claims reported by the US state department cables that the Italian leader was profiting from gas deals between their two countries.
Newspapers and other media have given extensive coverage to the WikiLeaks disclosures. Berlusconi, who has denied any financial interest in Italy's energy dealings, was also embarrassed by a cable that quoted him as referring to Russia's president, Dmitry Medvedev as an "apprentice". He insisted he never said it.
But in a country where the prime minister cannot be forced to answer to parliament and where attention is now focussed mainly on two parliamentary censure motions that could topple the Berlusconi administration next week, the political fall-out has been limited. Pierluigi Bersani, the leader of Italy's biggest opposition group, the Democratic party, said the cables showed that "the prime minister, with his behaviour and political decisions, harms the reputation of Italy in the world."
But, for the most part, opposition politicians have heeded a warning from Berlusconi's foreign minister, Franco Frattini, not to exploit the cables for political purposes.
The cables show a rather withering US contempt for Austria and its leading politicians, with US diplomats complaining that Washington has little leverage in Vienna because the government there is barely interested in developing relations with the US. The social democratic chancellor, Werner Faymann, is described as a leader with scant interest in foreign affairs. The foreign minister, Michael Spindelegger, is preoccupied with promoting Austrian business. And Austria, constitutionally neutral and not in Nato, is criticised for resisting US pressure to send forces to Afghanistan.
Norbert Darabos, the defence minister, described the US criticism as "inexplicable", and said Austria would not increase its contribution to Afghanistan beyond the five policemen it has sent.
A leading Austrian Greens MP, Peter Pilz, proposed that the country should grant Julian Assange political asylum.
US cables described the peccadilloes of the Kazakh elite, including the 40-horse stable of Nursultan Nazarbayev, the president, a private Elton John concert for a top politician and an extraordinary midnight dance by the prime minister at a nightclub called Chocolat. Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, was at pains to privately apologise to several world leaders who were pilloried in the disclosures.
In perhaps the baldest character assassination of any world leader in the WikiLeaks cables, a US diplomat reported to Washington that president Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov of Turkmenistan is seen as "vain, fastidious, vindictive, a micro-manager," a "practised liar" and "not a very bright guy". In keeping with the country's insular regime, the charge provoked little reaction.
Disclosures about the Caucasus state were a mixed bag. As the New York Times noted, they showed US diplomats' catastrophic failure to recognise that Mikhail Saakashvili, the president, was planning to attack the breakaway enclave of South Ossetia in 2008. But they also concluded that before the conflict Russia had been "aggressively playing a high-stakes covert game" in an attempt to provoke Georgia into retaliation. Giga Bokeria, secretary of Georgia's national security council, toed Washington's line in his assessment of the WikiLeaks releases. "It is very cynical when one, under the guise of a martyr, fights against the greatest democracy [the US] using such prohibited methods," he said of Julian Assange, in televised comments.
Bishkek, the Kyrgyz capital, was the setting for Prince Andrew's infamous rant about geographically-challenged Americans and snooping "(expletive) journalists, especially from the National Guardian." At a meeting with the prince, Tatiana Gfoeller, the US ambassador to Bishkek, decided he was a victim of "neuralgic patriotism" whose behaviour "verged on the rude". Kyrgyzstan's leadership has been silent on that sharp assessment, while local media have been more interested in claims that China offered the country a $3bn (£1.9bn) aid package if it would close the Manas airbase, which the US uses to supply its troops in Afghanistan.
According to the WikiLeaks documents, Moldova's then president, Vladimir Voronin, offered a $10m (£6.4m) bribe to a rival in 2009 in a desperate attempt to keep his communist government in power. A leading member of Voronin's party, Mark Tkachuk, told reporters the claims were "fairy tales" and "low-life gossip".
It took just a few leaked words to create an outcry from the Kenyan government. In a teaser of what the cables from Nairobi would reveal, Der Spiegel said last week that US officials believed the country was a "swamp of corruption" — hardly a heretic view on the streets of Nairobi. Government spokesman Alfred Mutua immediately called a news conference to say the government was "surprised and shocked".
"If what is reported is true, it is totally malicious, and a total misrepresentation of our country and our leaders," he said.
He went on to say that foreign countries funding youth empowerment schemes in Kenya – a barely veiled reference to the US — were in fact trying to overthrow the government. The US ambassador to Nairobi, Michael Ranneberger, described Mutua's claims as "utterly ridiculous". The prime minister told parliament he welcomed the Wikileaks revelations.
'We now know what some of our friends think about us … it is helpful."
After the revelations on Thursday that the US ambassador believed rampant corruption could lead in renewed violence in the country, Kibaki's office released a statement defending his record.
"We wish to state that President Kibaki's record on reforms through out his career speaks for itself. ," it said.
The authorities in Uganda were also riled. In response to claims that President Yoweri Museveni feared his plane being shot down on the orders of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, the Ugandan foreign minister Sam Kutesa issued a statement yesterday (Thursday).
"While it is true that we hold discussions with the US government on regional and internationals issues, the contents of the alleged cables are grossly inaccurate and illogical. For example, if the Ugandan president perceived the threat to fly the international airspace, the solution would be for him to stay at home. Other leaders in the world have done so in the past."
But Museveni's spokesman Tamale Mirundi confirmed that other leaked cables referring to the president's concern about Sudan supporting the Lord's Resistance Army rebels a few years ago, and Eritrea being a regional threat, were in fact accurate.
Despite its president being described by US officials as an "unhinged dictator", there was no reaction from Eritrea to the leaked cables. There is also no free press in Eritrea.
Royal Dutch Shell said it was "absolutely untrue" that it had infiltrated every Nigerian ministry affecting its operations there. The company offered no further comment.
In an opinion piece in the state-run Herald newspaper, Reason Wafawarova focused on how the cables showed that Mugabe had defied US expectations of his demise from power. He also delighted in description of opposition leader and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai as a "flawed figure".
The rich store of WikiLeaks revelations about Pakistan have monopolized headlines and the political agenda for over ten days. But some stories are considered too hot to touch. While cables exposing the foibles of Pakistan's civilian leaders triggered a media feeding frenzy, the press largely ignored revelations that cast the powerful military in a bad light, including its alleged support for Islamist extremist groups such as the Taliban. That left politicians struggling to bat off embarrassing allegations, such as the bearded religious firebrand seen cosying up to the American ambassador, President Asif Zardari's obsession with his death, or prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani's secret support for CIA drone strikes.
"Don't trust WikiLeaks," Gilani told reporters in Kabul at the weekend, attempting to brush off the revelations as "the observations of junior diplomats". Beside him President Hamid Karzai, also tarred in the dispatches, nodded solemnly. Rarely have the sparring neighbours agreed so easily. Coverage of army chief General Ashfaq Kayani focused on revelations that he threatened to oust Zardari last year but held back because he "distrusted" opposition contender Nawaz Sharif. The army issued a statement that Kayani "holds all political leaders in esteem". But most reporters shied away from US intelligence assessments that the army under Kayani continues to support the Taliban and Mumbai attackers Lashkar-e-Taiba. "ISI extols the virtues of some Taliban elements" read one small headline that provided no other details; otherwise loquacious television anchors were largely silent on the matter. One exception was the new Express Tribune paper. "It has always been an open secret that the military acts as puppet master," said an editorial "Only now do we have confirmation of just how tenuous the hold of democracy in the country really is."
Pakistani conspiracy theorists insisted the cables had been deliberately leaked as part of a Washington plot to discredit the Muslim world; the Saudi ambassador described them as "a rapist's propaganda".
But for most Pakistanis, the cables simply confirmed how much influence the US wields over their military and civilian leaders. Several headlines referred to the "WikiLeaks shame"; former diplomat Asif Ezdi said they proved Pakistan had become "the world's biggest banana republic".
The judiciary, meanwhile, liked the cables. Dismissing an attempt to block their publication, High Court judge Sheikh Azmat Saeed, said that WikiLeaks "may cause trouble for some personalities" but would be "good for the progress of the nation in the long run."
In Afghanistan the Wikileaks disclosure have been a source of endless fascination for the general public, with the country's journalists devoting hours of airtime to pouring over the cables. Among pundits debate has raged about the meaning of the revelations, and even whether they can be believed with some incredulous commentators refusing to accept that the world's most powerful country could ever lose so much confidential information. Some have even suggested it was a put up job by the Americans themselves.
But so far there have been no major political casualties, despite the deeply critical remarks of Hamid Karzai made by his own senior ministers and the US ambassador.
The Afghan president has publicly thrown his support behind Omar Zakhiwal, his finance minister who was quoted in cables describing his boss as "extremely weak man". But a cabinet reshuffle is expected after the new parliament is inaugurated.
Also thought to be vulnerable is Karl Eikenberry, the US ambassador who wrote at times despairing notes back to Washington about Karzai.
The Afghan and US governments have insisted their relationship remains strong but former US ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad has publicly said Eikenberry's position is untenable.
Many believe there is now no chance that he will extend his soon to expire two year term, if he wanted to.
In India the reaction to WikiLeaks was initially muted or positive, though the revelations were covered by all sectors of the press, including the local language media. "The first lot of WikiLeaks documents paints a flattering picture of India as a reliable, trusted and respected power in a world that worries itself sick about neighbouring Pakistan," the Times of India newspaper said. Coverage focused on revelations from Pakistan and particularly about Islamabad's security services' relationship with local Islamic extremists. India's external affairs ministry refused to comment on the leak other than to stress its continuing "candid" dialogue with the United States. As the week has passed criticism, both of Western countries and of the leak, has built up, particularly as police in the UK moved to arrest the Wikileaks founder. "The way these governments have been going after Assange and his group raises the question whether what is commonly called the free world is really free," said the Mumbai-based newspaper Daily News Analysis. Others attacked those behind the leak. "There is a strong feeling that the sense of responsibility lacks," union law minister Veerappa Moily told The Guardian yesterday (Wednesday). "This just creates mutual misunderstanding. The trust is endangered by such leaks and that is a very unhealthy trend." Shashi Tharoor, former minister of state for external affairs, called the leaks "unethical and wrong".
"The confidentiality of government communications is the lifeblood of diplomatic comfort," Tharoor told a local reporter. "You do not effectively run a government if your own diplomats cannot report to their own capitals in utter candour." Other commentators however called for an Indian version of the leak, arguing that the Indian bureaucracy was one of the most opaque in the world and could only benefit from public scrutiny. ends
Julian Assange and WikiLeaks have been on the front page of most newspapers in Bangladesh over the last week. The story has been of particular interest to the country's many students who thronged street tea stalls in Dhaka, the capital, to discuss "how WikiLeaks has shaken the US administration by revealing its confidential cables", according to one local journalist. Anis Pervez, an associate professor at the University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh, said he had discussed the leaks in his classroom lecture on media ethics. "Every state has sovereignty and sometimes some information can create tension. Then again, there is a dilemma over how much information one should reveal to the public just because he or she has it," he said. One particularly cable alleging that the Islamic extremist group Lashkar-e-Toiba had established sleeper cells in Bangladesh hit headlines. "The information divulged on the WikiLeaks is creating an odd situation for many countries. We have not yet checked the documents found regarding Bangladesh," said Yafeash Osman, state minister for science and technology, said.
In Nepal there has therefore been some disappointment that most of the 2,600 documents that were sent from the US Embassy in Kathmandu have not yet to be released. The leaks sparked frantic efforts by Nepali politicians as well as journalists to find out what revelations about the Himalayan nation could be expected with journalists offices in Kathmandu bombarded by calls from politicians and leaderships seeking tips on what might be coming. As elsewhere released cables have been scoured for elements of local interest. Documents suggesting that Maoist rebels had received Indian funding provoked an inevitably strongly worded reaction from Nepal's Maoist party. Other cables touching on the relations between regional giants China and India have also been minutely scrutinised.
In Sri Lanka, the leaks provoked a political and media storm as many focused on the island nation's controversial and bloody recent history. While one effectively accused President Mahinda Rajapaksa of being complicit in war crimes – a charge he denies – another described a diplomatic campaign by British former foreign secretary David Miliband to champion aid and human rights during the Sri Lankan humanitarian crisis last year as largely driven by domestic political calculations. Media reactions have varied. Newspapers loyal to the government have covered the various allegations made in the cables but have particularly focused on material that is embarrassing to the US or the UK The campaigning Sunday Leader however published a call to journalistic arms: "As media acquired books, the powerful enacted bans. As media developed newspapers, the powerful found ways to seal them in courts or seduce them with access and wealth. Through all this one force, however, is constant. You can't keep a good story down. You can't stop the thirst for justice, you can only mask it for a while. This is a lesson that WikiLeaks is teaching the world, and we hope that it will reach Sri Lankan ears."
China has been tight-lipped. It has also been increasingly keen to stop others from having their say, deleting articles and discussions about the cables. It called the contents of the diplomatic memos "absurd" but has otherwise refused to comment on the information they contain, such as reports of official frustration with North Korea and a source's claim that a senior official was behind the attack on Google.
Foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said yesterday that Beijing hoped the emergence of the cables would not affect relations with Washington.
Censorship has not stopped some people from reading about the cables on overseas websites.
"Reading [about] China and Google, I want to say: WikiLeaks rocks!" one wrote on a microblog service of the popular portal Sina earlier this week.
Another argued: "What Wikileaks says about China must be a slander from the US. What do you think? The US government hates Wikileaks too? It must be a conspiracy."
China Digital Times, which monitors censorship, believes the Central Propaganda Bureau issued an order telling websites not to issue further reports on the cables, although some have reported on Julian Assange's arrest.
The role of Assange, the country's prodigal son, has generated the most coverage and debate. Referring to him as the 'Ned Kelly of the digital age', Bryce Lowry said: "Assange is a cyber bushranger: a renegade taunter of authority and inspiration to many who marvel at his daring to challenge the status quo." Prime Minister Julia Gillard said the publication of the cables is illegal, and Assange's actions are "grossly irresponsible". She has made it clear the Australian government will offer him no support although the Australian consulate in the UK has offered him access to their services.
The cables themselves reveal an unflattering view of former prime minister – now foreign minister – Kevin Rudd. He was an abrasive, impulsive ''control freak'' who presided over a series of foreign policy blunders. Another cable referenced how Rudd angered the US by detailing a private conversation he had with Bush which included the moment he was "stunned to hear Bush say, 'What's the G20?'"
Rudd retaliated this week. "Mr Assange is not himself responsible for the unauthorised release of 250,000 documents from the US diplomatic communications network. "The Americans are responsible for that," he said.
Ian Black, Angelique Chrisafis, Ian Traynor, Jon Boone, Declan Walsh, Tom Parfitt, Ewen MacAskill, Tom Phillips, Xan Rice, Jason Burke and John Hooper
The Guardian, Friday 10 December 2010