Wikileaks unveils largest US diplomatic cables, Turkey makes up second biggest share

November 29, 2010, Monday/ 00:00:00

Hundreds of thousands of State Department documents leaked Sunday revealed a hidden world of backstage international diplomacy, divulging candid comments from world leaders and detailing occasional US pressure tactics aimed at hot spots in Afghanistan, Iran and North Korea.

The classified diplomatic cables released by online whistle-blower WikiLeaks and reported on by news organizations in the United States and Europe provided often unflattering assessments of foreign leaders, ranging from US allies such as Germany and Italy to other nations like Turkey, Libya, Iran and Afghanistan.

German Der Spiegel reported on Sunday that the leaked diplomatic cables reveal that US diplomats are skeptical about Turkey's dependability as a partner. The leadership in Ankara is depicted as divided and permeated by Islamists, the report said.

According to Der Spiegel, US diplomats have grave doubts about Turkey's dependability. Secret or confidential cables from the US Embassy in Ankara describe Islamist tendencies in the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

The US diplomats' verdict on the NATO partner with the second biggest army in the alliance is devastating. The Turkish leadership is depicted as divided, and Erdoğan's advisers, as well as Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, are portrayed as having little understanding of politics beyond Ankara.

The Americans are also worried about Davutoğlu's alleged neo-Ottoman visions. A high-ranking government adviser warned in discussions, quoted by the US diplomats, that Davutoğlu would use his Islamist influence on Erdoğan, describing him as "exceptionally dangerous." According to the US document, another adviser to the ruling AK Party remarked, probably ironically, that Turkey wanted "to take back Andalusia and avenge the defeat at the siege of Vienna in 1683."

The US diplomats write that many leading figures in the AK Party were members of a Muslim fraternity and that Erdoğan had appointed Islamist bankers to influential positions. He gets his information almost exclusively from newspapers with close links to Islamists, they reported. The prime minister, the cables continue, has surrounded himself with an "iron ring of sycophantic (but contemptuous) advisors" and presents himself as the "Tribune of Anatolia."

US steps up pressure on Turkey over Iran

UK’s The Guardian, in leaked documents published on late Sunday said, in a tense conversation, a senior US envoy presses Turkish officials to support US-led action to convince the Iranian government that it is on the wrong course. The Turks insist their mediation efforts are the best way forward but are forced to concede that most countries in the region see Iran as a threat.

According to the daily, the great Iranian-American struggle for control and influence in the Middle East is far from over – and may in fact be hotting up – and it was made plain again when US under-secretary William Burns held yet another meeting with the reluctant Turks in Ankara in February 2010. Burns insists Washington would prefer a negotiated settlement with Iran. Then, like Gates, he uses the spectre of an Israeli military attack to dramatise his arguments and unsettle the Turks.

"Burns strongly urged [Turkish foreign ministry under-secretary Feridun] Sinirlioğlu to support action to convince the Iranian government it is on the wrong course. Sinirlioğlu reaffirmed the GoT's [government of Turkey] opposition to a nuclear Iran; however, he registered fear about the collateral impact military action might have on Turkey and contended sanctions would unite Iranians behind the regime and harm the opposition.

"Burns acknowledged Turkey's exposure to the economic effects of sanctions as a neighbour to Iran, but reminded Sinirlioğlu Turkish interests would suffer if Israel were to act militarily to forestall Iran's acquisition of nuclear weapons or if Egypt and Saudi Arabia were to seek nuclear arsenals of their own. 'We'll keep the door open to engagement,' he [Burns] stressed."

And for once, it appears he has made some headway, the Guardian interpreted. "A visibly disheartened Sinirlioğlu conceded a unified message is important. He acknowledged the countries of the region perceive Iran as a growing threat: 'Alarm bells are ringing even in Damascus.' "

The report also said in Nov. 2009 that Davutoğlu, reportedly told US envoy Phillip Gordon that Iran cannot be bullied into compliance with western demands.

According to The Guardian, when Gordon says Ankara should send a stern public message to Tehran about the consequences of ignoring UN resolutions, Davutoğlu replies that [Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan made just such a statement during a recent visit to Tehran. "Only Turkey can speak bluntly and critically to the Iranians, Davutoğlu contended, but only because Ankara is showing public messages of friendship."

The exchange continues: "Noting that Davutoğlu had only addressed the negative consequences of sanctions or the use of military force, Gordon pressed Davutoğlu on Ankara's assessment of the consequences if Iran gets a nuclear weapon. Davutoğlu gave a spirited reply, that 'of course' Turkey was aware of this risk. 'This is precisely why Turkey is working so hard with the Iranians.' "

French and Americans exchange views on Turkey

During Assistant Secretary Gordon's visit to Paris on September 11, he met with a number of French policy-makers including Elysee Diplomatic Advisors Jean-David Levitte, Damien Loras, and Francois Richier, Assistant Secretary equivalent for Continental Europe Roland Galharague, and Acting Director of Ministry of Foreign Affairs Strategic Affairs bureau Jean-Hugues Simon-Michel to discuss Turkey’s EU accesion, among other important topics.

According to the leaked documents, unveiled by the Guardian, Levitte informed Gordon that there had been no change in the French position advocating a "privileged partnership" between the European Union and Turkey, in lieu of EU membership. However, he emphasized that France was not preventing accession negotiations from progressing on all the EU chapters that do not pre-suppose membership. There remain plenty of chapters of the acquis to open, so if progress is not being made, the fault lies with Turkish intransigence on Greek Cyprus. Unfortunately, Ankara is not completing the required necessary reforms and progress has stalled. Levitte anticipated a negative report this fall on Turkey's failure to fulfill the Ankara Protocol. Gordon said that Turkey was caught in a vicious cycle and it is not completing necessary reforms because the Turks do not believe that their EU candidacy will be allowed to progress, and at the same time, their negotiations are not progressing because they aren't completing the required reforms. He noted that in the latest German Marshall Fund polls in Turkey, fewer that 30% of the Turkish public believes they will succeed in getting EU membership.

Levitte agreed, according to the leaked information, but noted that Paris hopes that it will be the Turks themselves who realize that their role is best played as a bridge between the two worlds of Europe and Asia, rather than anchored in Europe itself. He stated that Turkey is in a difficult position as it wants to enter the EU but has refused to accept one of the other EU member states. Levitte predicted that a worse case scenario would be if Turkey finally manages to complete the acquis and end negotiations and a public referendum is held in France which is finally opposed to their membership. Despite all of these problems, Levitte claimed that President Sarkozy is a friend of Turkey and has visited the country at least 10 times in his life.

Elderly American's escape from Iran to Turkey

In a series of leaked documents, The Guardian also chronicled the story of elderly American’s escape from Iran to Turkey. The story goes: When Hossein Ghanbarzadeh Vahedi, a 75-year-old American of Iranian descent, decided to visit relatives in Tehran in May 2008, he took a flight from Los Angeles in the normal way. When he returned home, his means of transport was somewhat less orthodox.

After seven months in which he was prevented from leaving Iran, had his passport confiscated and saw his appeals ignored by the revolutionary courts, Vahedi took matters into his own hands. In a daring escape, he mounted a horse, hired two guides, and began a perilous 14-hour overnight climb across the freezing mountains of north-western Iran into eastern Turkey. After that he took a bus.

On 9 January 2009, Vahedi turned up at the consular section of the US embassy in Ankara and asked for assistance. To the evident astonishment of American diplomats, Vahedi appeared in good health, but for "a few aches and pains" caused by a fall.

Vahedi's previously untold ordeal, and its happy conclusion, is related in a confidential diplomatic cable from the Ankara embassy seen by the Guardian. In it Vahedi, who left Iran during the 1979 Islamic revolution, tells how his sojourn to his parents' graves and ancestral home turned into a nightmare. His passport was confiscated at Tehran airport as he was about to fly home and the Iranian authorities repeatedly refused to return it, he said. There appeared to be two reasons. One was "simple extortion": it was made clear, he said, that $150,000 (£92,000) would facilitate his departure.

Second, Vahedi said, Iranian government officials told him that he should tell his LA-based sons to stop promoting concerts in the Gulf by Persian pop singers that were considered "anti-regime". He replied that his sons were typical "strong, independent" Americans who would do no such thing.

Of the four commonly used illegal escape routes, he opted for the mountain trail into Turkey. "At one point during the 14-hour ride, the escorts had to physically hug him to keep him warm," the cable recounted. "As an inexperienced rider, hours into the climb, Vahedi lost his concentration and fell off the horse, tumbling into the woods. He told [diplomats] that at this point he really believed he was going to die by freezing to death on a mountainside."

Even when he reached the other side of the border, Vahedi's ordeal was not over. Turkish officials declared him an illegal immigrant and ordered his deportation back to Iran. Luckily for him, US embassy officials had a quiet word with the Turkish foreign ministry – and he was allowed to fly home.

Leaked Documents disseminate information about Erdoğan’s aides, cabinet

With the dismissal of Güçlü and these appointments, the leaked documents claim, Erdoğan has shown more clearly that he intends to whittle down Gül's influence. By dismissing Akşit and Ergezen and appointing Eker, whose family status in Diyarbakır makes him a powerful rival to Interior Minister Aksu, Erdoğan has also drawn the noose around Aksu. Aksu has most recently served Erdoğan's purposes by dismissing Hanefi Avcı, an leading Gülenist, according to the leaks, who as National Police (TNP) department head for organized crime was starting to push corruption investigations that were leading to the heart of AK Party. However, Erdoğan has long been troubled by Aksu, whom he suspects of being ready to bolt from AK Party with a number of disgruntled Member of Parliaments. Aksu's Kurdish favoritism, reported ties to the heroin trade, well-known predilection for teenage girls, and his son's open Mafia links make him a weak link in the Cabinet, one Erdoğan knows the core institutions of the Turkish State could exploit at any time.

In the leaked documents, Erdoğan was described as the glue of AK Party. The documents classified 60 deputies of AK Party as southeastern and Kurdish origin. The document claimed AK Party's Kurdish deputies are extraordinarily passive on Kurdish issues. The second highest number of documents are from Turkey after Iraq, according to the leaked documents.

Education Minister Nimet Çubukçu was described as focused, highly ambitious in the leaked documents. It says "Çubukçu is focused, highly ambitious, and months ago made clear to us she sought the state minister position. She has ensured that she stays close to Erdogan's wife Emine, which appears to have been a major factor in her selection, according to what party deputy chairman Şaban Dişli told us June 7."

According to a broad range of our contacts, Erdoğan reads minimally, mainly the Islamist-leaning press. According to others with broad and deep contacts throughout the establishment, Erdoğan refuses to draw on the analyses of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the military and National Intelligence Organization have cut him off from their reports. He never had a realistic world view, but one key touchstone is a fear of being outmaneuvered on the Islamist side by “Hoca” Erbakan's Saadet Party. Instead, he relies on his charisma, instincts, and the filterings of advisors who pull conspiracy theories off the Web or are lost in neo-Ottoman Islamist fantasies, e.g., Islamist foreign policy advisor and Gül ally Ahmet Davutoğlu.

The cables also contained new revelations about long-simmering nuclear trouble spots, detailing US, Israeli and Arab world fears of Iran's growing nuclear program, American concerns about Pakistan's atomic arsenal and US discussions about a united Korean peninsula as a long-term solution to North Korean aggression.

There are also American memos encouraging US diplomats at the United Nations to collect detailed data about the UN secretary-general, his team and foreign diplomats -- going beyond what is considered the normal run of information-gathering expected in diplomatic circles.

None of the revelations is particularly explosive, but their publication could prove problematic for the officials concerned.

The documents published by The New York Times, France's Le Monde, Britain's Guardian newspaper, German magazine Der Spiegel and others laid out the behind-the-scenes conduct of Washington's international relations, shrouded in public by platitudes, smiles and handshakes at photo sessions among senior officials.

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.”

It also noted that “by its very nature, field reporting to Washington is candid and often incomplete information. It is not an expression of policy, nor does it always shape final policy decisions."

"Nevertheless, these cables could compromise private discussions with foreign governments and opposition leaders, and when the substance of private conversations is printed on the front pages of newspapers across the world, it can deeply impact not only US foreign policy interests, but those of our allies and friends around the world," the White House said.

On its website, The New York Times said "the documents serve an important public interest, illuminating the goals, successes, compromises and frustrations of American diplomacy in a way that other accounts cannot match."

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange claimed the administration was trying to cover up alleged evidence of serious "human rights abuse and other criminal behavior" by the US government.

The WikiLeaks website was not accessible Sunday and the group claimed it was under a cyberattack.

But extracts of the more than 250,000 cables posted online by news outlets that had been given advance copies of the documents showed deep US concerns about Iranian and North Korean nuclear programs along with fears about regime collapse in Pyongyang.

The Times highlighted documents that indicated the US and South Korea were "gaming out an eventual collapse of North Korea" and discussing the prospects for a unified country if the isolated, communist North's economic troubles and political transition lead it to implode.

The paper also cited documents showing the US used hardline tactics to win approval from countries to accept freed detainees from Guantanamo Bay. It said Slovenia was told to take a prisoner if its president wanted to meet with President Barack Obama and said the Pacific island of Kiribati was offered millions of dollars to take in a group of detainees.

It also cited a cable from the US Embassy in Beijing that included allegations from a Chinese contact that China's Politburo directed a cyber intrusion into Google's computer systems as part of a "coordinated campaign of computer sabotage carried out by government operatives, private security experts and Internet outlaws."

Le Monde said another memo asked US diplomats to collect basic contact information about UN officials that included Internet passwords, credit card numbers and frequent flyer numbers. They were asked to obtain fingerprints, ID photos, DNA and iris scans of people of interest to the United States, Le Monde said.

The Guardian said some cables showed King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia repeatedly urging the United States to attack Iran to destroy its nuclear program. The newspaper also said officials in Jordan and Bahrain have openly called for Iran's nuclear program to be stopped by any means and that leaders of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt referred to Iran "as 'evil,' an 'existential threat' and a power that 'is going to take us to war,"' The Guardian said.

The Times said another batch of documents raised questions about Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and his relationship with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. One cable said Berlusconi "appears increasingly to be the mouthpiece of Putin" in Europe, the Times reported.

Italy's Foreign Minister Franco Frattini on Sunday called the release the "Sept. 11 of world diplomacy," in that everything that had once been accepted as normal has now changed.

Der Spiegel reported that the cables portrayed German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle in unflattering terms. It said American diplomats saw Merkel as risk-averse and Westerwelle as largely powerless.

The Obama administration has been bracing for the release for the past week. Top officials have notified allies that the contents of the diplomatic cables could prove embarrassing because they contain candid assessments of foreign leaders and their governments, as well as details of American policy.

The State Department's top lawyer warned Assange late Saturday that lives and military operations would be put at risk if the cables were released. Legal adviser Harold Koh said WikiLeaks would be breaking the law if it went ahead. He also rejected a request from Assange to cooperate in removing sensitive details from the documents.

Assange, in a response released Sunday by his London lawyer, said he had no intention of halting the release.

The New York Times said the documents involved 250,000 cables --  the daily message traffic between the State Department and more than 270 US diplomatic outposts around the world. The newspaper said that in its reporting, it attempted to exclude information that would endanger confidential informants or compromise national security.

The Times said that after its own redactions, it sent Obama administration officials the cables it planned to post and invited them to challenge publication of any information they deemed would harm the national interest. After reviewing the cables, the officials suggested additional redactions, the Times said. The newspaper said it agreed to some, but not all.

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