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WikiLeaks 'attack': How damaging to US foreign relations?

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemns the WikiLeaks 'attack on the international community' as harmful to US policy goals. But major geopolitical shifts are unlikely, analysts say.

By Staff writer / November 29, 2010

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gestures as she delivers a statement about WikiLeaks at the State Department in Washington on Monday.

Yuri Gripas/Reuters

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Washington

The US intensified its efforts at damage control on Monday following the publication by WikiLeaks of more than a quarter-million diplomatic cables, with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton calling the massive release not just a problem for American foreign policy but “an attack on the international community.”

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In a statement to journalists in the State Department’s Treaty Room before she was to leave on a four-country trip through Central Asia and the Persian Gulf, Secretary Clinton said that both the furthering of US national interests and the operation of the world’s international political system depend on thousands of confidential exchanges, assessments, and conversations every day.

Far from being a “laudable” effort to make the workings of government transparent, the leaking of classified cables, she said, can have a chilling effect on such US foreign policy goals as the promotion of human rights or expansion of religious freedoms by discouraging the foreign proponents of those goals from working with the US.

The release of more than 250,000 cables primarily from the Bush and Obama administrations by WikiLeaks – the same organization that released classified information on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars earlier this year – is a cause of deep embarrassment to the US.

But it is not likely to lead to any significant geopolitical shifts or fundamental reworkings of US relations with other countries, many foreign-policy analysts say. And that is because foreign partners were assumed to be acting in their own national interest in their dealings with the US before the revelations, and presumably will continue to do so now. “No country is going to suddenly act against its own self interest because of this,” says Lawrence Korb, a foreign-policy expert and former Pentagon official at the Center for American Progress in Washington.

Impact on diplomatic corps

The real impact of the new WikiLeaks release, he says, is likely to be on the US diplomatic corps – and on the conversations with foreigners that they depend on to do their work. “The real issue here is whether our own diplomats now are going to be as forthcoming as they used to be,” he says, “and will the people they talk to be as open with them?”

On the other hand, the exposed confidential communications could make some of the US’s prickliest dealings all the more difficult, some analysts note. Two examples are Pakistan and Yemen.

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