Embarrassment and silence as WikiLeaks exposé storms through Europe
U.S. envoy to London says that while diplomatic cables inform of U.S. foreign policy, they should not be seen as representing U.S. policy on their own.
After a long weekend filled with nervous phone calls, embarrassed personal visits and stammering apologies, American diplomats around the globe had little to do Monday but keep their heads down and wait out the storm created by WikiLeaks.
In London, U.S. Ambassador Louis Susman, who has been in constant touch with British Prime Minister David Cameron and his office about the debacle—published a lengthy statement on the embassy’s web site to try to explain the difference between cables and official U.S. policy.
Without discussing details or authenticity of the cables, which accuse Prince Andrew of “inappropriate behavior,” repeatedly put down Cameron and call his coalition government "unstable," and, perhaps most damagingly, also criticize British military operations in Afghanistan – Susman argues that “diplomatic cables inform the foreign policy decisions made by the U.S. government, but should not be seen as representing U.S. policy on their own."
The "special relationship," between Britain and the US, stressed Susman, remained solid and strong.
In France, meanwhile, U.S. Ambassador Charles Rivkin was engaged in similar damage control with a letter to the editors of Le Monde, lauding the strong bonds between Washington and Paris.
Both he and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton herself had been in touch, wrote Rivkin, with French President Nicolas Sarkozy – who is termed "thin-skinned" and “an emperor with no clothes” in the cables— and had expressed the US’s "profoundly regret" for the disclosures.
What Sarkozy or Cameron are saying in private about the Americans’ less than tactful descriptions of them we may never know – or, at least not until WikiLeaks finds a way of publishing their bedroom chats with Carla and SamCam.
But Washington’s important European allies, at least in public, seemed to almost be sympathetic to the embarrassing situation the leaks were causing Washington, and were directing their anger at WikiLeaks.
François Baroin, France’s government spokesman, said Monday that Paris was standing with Washington and that the WikiLeaks publication threatened "democratic sovereignty and authority.”
Over in Britain, Downing Street condemned the publication and echoed Washington’s argument that they would damage National security. More interestingly, perhaps, however, Jonathan Powell, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair's chief of staff, admitted, in a video posted on the Guardian’s web site, that overall, the documents show that American envoys are well-connected and well-informed about political issues abroad.
In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is nicknamed “Tefon” in the cables and is said to ''avoid risk and is rarely creative”, failed to make any comments about the leaks, and her Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, who comes off particularly poorly in the revelations, criticizing both his own government and President Sarkozy personally, also remained mum. But the German government, like those France and Britain, officially and quickly condemned the leaks.
Italy’s Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who is described in the leaks, by turn, as "feckless," "vain," "ineffective," "a mouthpiece” of Russia’s Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, and someone who does not get "sufficient rest," because of “frequent late nights and penchant for partying hard,” reportedly laughed when he heard about the story, and his TV stations in Italy happily gave the WikiLeaks story prominent coverage.
And while Italy’s foreign minister Franco Frattini was less amused -- describing the leaks as “criminal' and a '9/11 for diplomacy,” he also stressed that the WikiLeaks affair would not harm Italy’s “solid” ties with the US, in any way.