US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Monday gave Washington’s first public reaction to the leaking of thousands of confidential diplomatic documents, describing it as an attack not only on the US, but the international community.
In a lengthy statement expressing US regret over the leaks that have thrown the diplomatic world into disarray and created widespread embarrassment for Washington, Clinton said they put at risk the lives of many people in oppressive societies who had spoken to US diplomats.
US President Barack Obama also criticized the leak. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said it was a criminal act and the president “is, and it is an understatement, not pleased with this information becoming public.”
The US condemnation was echoed by foreign ministries round the world, at least in public, with some shrugging aside the release.
The White House, Clinton and the Pentagon announced a review was under way to tighten up security to prevent a future breach. The number of people with access to classified information is expected to be reduced.
Clinton told reporters at the US State Department: “It is an attack on the international community, the alliances and partnerships, the conversations and negotiations that safeguard global security and advance economic prosperity.”
The US has been working hard to deal with the global recession and the threat posed by terrorists, Clinton said, adding that the leaks undermined this work.
“There is nothing laudable about endangering innocent people, and there is nothing brave about sabotaging peaceful relations between nations on which our common security depends,” she said.
She was speaking before leaving on a trip to Central Asia, a journey made more difficult than usual by the revelations so far and the potential for more to come.
Although she started the press conference with a smile and even managed a joke — saying one of her foreign colleagues said she should see what they say privately about her — she looked tired after days talking to counterparts around the world, warning them of what might be coming and trying to soothe hurt feelings.
She predicted: “I am confident that the partnerships that the Obama administration has worked so hard to build will withstand these challenges.”
She said ambassadors needed to be candid, but “our official foreign policy is not set through these messages, but here in Washington.”
Gibbs, at a White House briefing, called the leaks a crime. The comments from Clinton and the White House came on a day in which world leaders digested the importance of the WikiLeaks disclosures.
In Afghanistan — whose president, Hamid Karzai, was described in the cables as “extremely weak” — spokesman Waheed Omer said it would not affect the relationship with the US.
“There is not much in the documents to surprise us and we don’t see anything substantive that will strain our relationship, but there is more still to come,” he said.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov hoped comments about Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin — he was described as an “alpha dog” and Batman to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s Robin — will not damage relations.
“It’s entertaining reading, of course,” Lavrov said. “But in practice we prefer to be guided by the concrete matters of partners.”
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who earlier laughed off the revelations about his personal life, sounded more irritable later, on a visit to Libya, where he said he had no interest in the opinions of “third or fourth rank” diplomats.