The WikiWeek that was: What we've learnt so far

A look behind the diplomatic bitching to find the real revelations amid the information overload
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The Independent Online

Everybody hates Iran – but they daren't say it

"It's fair to say there is no debate in the international community." So said Hillary Clinton in Bahrain yesterday. She was talking about Iran and the undesirability of it making an atomic bomb. It was quite a statement, given how hard she had to strive to create a consensus for sanctions on Iran earlier this year. She may want to thank Julian Assange for her new confidence.

We now know from all those leaked cables that while many of Iran's Arab neighbours are reluctant to say it out loud, they are as appalled by its actions as the US. "By whatever means necessary," was how Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa put it, telling a US diplomat that Iran must be stopped. King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia exhorted the US to "cut off the head of the snake". And in case anyone doubts that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a master of the absurd, his reaction to the cables showing Arab disdain for his government: the leaks are in fact an American plot.

David Usborne, US Editor



Benjamin Netanyahu isn't so bad after all

As politicians around the world scramble to contain the fallout from embarrassing disclosures in leaked US diplomatic cables, Israel finds itself in the unusual position of emerging almost entirely unscathed to watch from the sidelines.

Benjamin Netanyahu will have been surprised to receive praise from the harassed founder of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, who called the Israeli prime minister a "sophisticated politician" and "not a naïve man" who believes that "the result of this publication... will lead to some kind of increase in the peace process in the Middle East and particularly in relation to Iran".

Israel has come out of the massive documents dump so clean that some just can't help but sniff conspiracy in the air. Turkey suggested that Israel was itself behind the leaks that have left several world leaders reeling.

"One should analyse why this happened, who did it and why, who is benefitting and who is being harmed," said Turkish Interior Minister Besir Atalay. "It seems to us that the country which... is not mentioned much, especially in the Middle East, or which this development seems to favour, is Israel."

Israel immediately dismissed the claims as nonsensical.

Catrina Stewart, in Jerusalem



European politicians are a bunch of stereotypes

Europe's classic stereotypes are alive, well and at the head of governments across the continent, if the confidential reports sent to Washington by US diplomats can be believed.

Dull, plodding Germans; over-excitable Frenchmen and corrupt, macho Italians featured prominently in the the WikiLeaks European political leadership line-up. The US embassy in Berlin dismissed Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel disparagingly as "risk averse and rarely creative" – and few politicians can come much duller than that.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy may once have described himself as "Sarkozy l'Americain", but that seemed only to encourage the State Department's team in Paris to portray him as a typical emotional Frenchman. "Just being in the same room with Sarkozy is enough to make anyone's stress level rise," wrote one diplomat. However, Silvio Berlusconi took the biscuit. US diplomats in Rome suspected that he was profiting "personally and handsomely" from huge kickbacks he was alleged to be receiving from Moscow for signing major energy deals with Russia – a charge the Italian PM denies. "Berlusconi admires Putin's macho and authoritarian style of government which he believes matches his own," is how one US diplomat put it in a cable that reads like something out of The Godfather.

Tony Paterson, in Berlin



US diplomats take their cue from the British press

Almost all the information on British politics in the diplomatic cables leaked so far could have been gleaned from reading British newspapers at the time.

American officials in London contrasted Gordon Brown unfavourably with Tony Blair, saying he lacked his predecessor's "charisma" and that Labour was "rudderless" in comparison. He receives some credit for his work during the global financial crisis but the cables mainly chart the string of crises to engulf the Brown premiership, describing his "abysmal track record" and how he "lurches from political disaster to disaster". It is a fair bet that Mr Brown will not find much surprising in the cables, although they are rather dismissive of his typically dogged determination to win US support for various global initiatives, even when he has been told that America will not back him.

One exception was an intriguing intervention by Nick Brown, Labour's chief whip, who felt moved to reassure the US embassy that Mr Brown would be able to see off his Labour critics.

Andrew Grice, Political Editor



Mervyn King has a gift for stating the obvious

So. The Bank of England governor Mervyn King thought that George Osborne and David Cameron lacked depth and experience – when they had never held governmental office. He thought they behaved like politicians – in the run-up to a general election. Hmmm. One has to say that Mr King, a shrewd and highly intelligent man, was offering the US Ambassador to the Court of St James on that occasion no more than the conventional wisdom of those pre-election times.

Then, let us recall, Mr Osborne was routinely referred to as the Tories' "weakest link", and always came last in polls of business leaders and the public, behind Vince Cable and Alistair Darling.

What was not revealed by Wiki-Leaks was Mr King's enthusiasm for Mr Osborne's early spending cuts. He was apparently lined up to persuade doubting Liberal Democrats about this in the coalition talks and then publicly endorsed Osborne's budget deficit plan: that was when the Governor raised eyebrows.

Sean O'Grady, Economics Editor

Alcohol is a despot's best friend

The drinking habits of foreign leaders fascinate the US administration and the leaked cables attempt to keep Washington informed of the latest developments on the liquid front.

When James B Steinberg, the US Deputy Secretary of State, met one of the most powerful officials in Beijing, Dai Bingguo, the talk turned to Kim Jong-Il. The cable which followed chronicled Mr Dai's remarks that although "flabby old chap" Mr Kim had suffered a stroke he had retained his reputation as "quite a good drinker". In fact it was purely scheduling rather than health problems which had prevented Mr Kim from inviting to Mr Dai to "one of his legendary drinking sessions".

A tale of alcoholic excess was also relayed from the Moscow embassy. US diplomats flew down to Dagestan for the wedding of oil baron Gadzi Makhachev. One of the guests was Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov.

"The alcohol consumption before, during and after this Muslim wedding was stupendous," the cable confided. "Amidst an alcohol shortage Gadzi had flown in from the Urals thousands of bottles of Beluga Export vodka."

The State Department was informed: "There was also entertainment... [But] Gadzi's main act, a Syrian-born singer named Avraam Russo, could not make it because he was shot a few days before the wedding."

Kim Sengupta, Diplomatic Correspondent

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