WASHINGTON // The release of more than 250,000 classified State Department documents forced the Obama administration into damage control, trying to contain fallout from unflattering assessments of world leaders and revelations about backstage US diplomacy.
The publication of the secret cables yesterday amplified widespread global alarm about Iran's nuclear ambitions and unveiled occasional US pressure tactics aimed at hot spots in Afghanistan, Pakistan and North Korea. The leaks also disclosed bluntly candid impressions from both diplomats and other world leaders about America's allies and foes.
In the wake of the massive document dump by online whistleblower WikiLeaks and numerous media reports detailing their contents, US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was expected to address the diplomatic repercussions on today. Mrs Clinton could deal with the impact first hand after she leaves Washington on a four-nation tour of Central Asia and the Middle East.
The cables unearthed new revelations about long-simmering nuclear trouble spots, detailing US, Israeli and Arab world fears of Iran's growing nuclear programme, American concerns about Pakistan's atomic arsenal and US discussions about a united Korean peninsula as a long-term solution to North Korean aggression.
None of the disclosures appeared particularly explosive, but their publication could become problems for the officials concerned and for any secret initiatives they had preferred to keep quiet. The massive release of material intended for diplomatic eyes only is sure to ruffle feathers in foreign capitals, a certainty that already prompted US diplomats to scramble in recent days to shore up relations with key allies in advance of the leaks.
At Clinton's first stop in Astana, Kazakhstan, she will be attending a summit of officials from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, a diplomatic grouping that includes many officials from countries cited in the leaked cables.
Today, Peter Hoekstra of Michigan, the senior Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, called the release very damaging to US interests.
"The catastrophic issue here is just a breakdown in trust," he said, adding that many other countries - allies and foes alike - are likely to ask, 'Can the United States be trusted? Can the United States keep a secret?' "
In London, David Field, a spokesman for the British prime minister David Cameron, said, "We work very closely with the U.S. and we will continue to do so." But he also said that "it's important that governments are able to operate on the basis of confidentiality of information."
The French foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said: "We strongly deplore the deliberate and irresponsible release of American diplomatic correspondence by the site Wikileaks."
The White House immediately condemned the release of the WikiLeaks documents, saying "such disclosures put at risk our diplomats, intelligence professionals and people around the world who come to the United States for assistance in promoting democracy and open government."
The US State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley played down the diplomatic spying allegations. "Our diplomats are just that, diplomats," he said. "They collect information that shapes our policies and actions. This is what diplomats, from our country and other countries, have done for hundreds of years."