Monday, November 29, 2010

Saudi Arabia urged the United States to attack Iran

The King of Saudi Arabia privately urged the United States to attack Iran to destroy its nuclear weapons programme, according to diplomatic cables leaked by the whistle-blowing website, WikiLeaks.The first tranche of more than 250,000 classified cables released by the WikiLeaks site says American officials were also told to spy on the United Nations’ leadership and get biometric information on its secretary general Ban Ki-moon.

The cables detail claims of inappropriate behaviour by a member of the Royal family and criticism of Britain’s military operations in Afghanistan and David Cameron.

The cables include requests for “specific intelligence” about British MPs. The communiques last night threatened a global diplomatic crisis and put America’s relations with Europe and the Middle East under a cloud. The German Chancellor Angela Merkel was depicted as “risk aversive”, while the Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin was an “alpha dog”. Afghanistan’s president Hamid Karzai was “driven by paranoia”. The unguarded comments were contained in the classified cables from US embassies, details of which were published by several newspapers on the internet last night. Some of the cables were sent as recently as last February.

The first package of memos published by The Guardian, the New York Times and Germany’s Der Spiegel failed to name the British Royal or the behaviour. The cables are being released over the coming fortnight, rather than all at once, putting America’s foreign relations under unprecedented pressure.

One of the most damaging allegations was that Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah repeatedly urged America to attack Iran.

The Saudi leader was recorded as having “frequently exhorted the US to attack Iran to put an end to its nuclear weapons programme”.

The leak said he told the Americans to “cut off the head of the snake” at a meeting in 2008. The leaks also disclose how leaders in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt referred to Iran as “evil” and a power that “is going to take us to war”.

The papers also claimed that the US Government was running a secret intelligence campaign targeted at Mr Ban and the permanent security council representatives from China, Russia, France and the UK. They alleged that the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, called for biometric information on the UN secretary general.

A classified directive was issued to US diplomats under the name of the secretary of state in July last year, asking for forensic technical details about the communications systems used by top UN officials, including passwords and personal encryption keys used in private and commercial networks for official communications.

American diplomats were also asked to compile a profile of Alan Duncan, the homosexual former oil trader who is now the international development minister.

The Americans particularly asked for information on the relationship between Mr Duncan and William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, with whom he used to share a flat, and also Mr Cameron.

The US administration also wanted information “on key UN officials, to include under-secretaries, heads of specialised agencies and their chief advisers” as well as intelligence on Mr Ban’s “management and decision-making style”.

Washington asked for credit card numbers, email addresses, phone, fax and pager numbers and even frequent-flyer account numbers for UN figures and “biographic and biometric information on UN Security Council permanent representatives”. The secret “national human intelligence collection directive” was sent to US missions at the UN in New York, Vienna and Rome as well as 33 embassies and consulates, including those in London, Paris and Moscow.

Some of the cables offered personal and highly embarrassing descriptions of other world leaders. Kim Jong-il, of North Korea, was said to suffer from epileptic fits, while President Medvedev of Russia was “hesitant”.

The documents also claimed that Italy’s prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, was known for his “wild parties” while Libya’s president Muammar Gaddafi had a “sumptuous blonde as a nursing sister”.

Barack Obama was reported to want to “look East rather than West” while feeling no emotional connection towards Europe.

Washington tended to view the world in terms of two super powers with the European Union playing a secondary role, the cables said.

According to a review of the WikiLeaks documents published in the New York Times, Saudi donors were chief financiers of militant groups such as al-Qaeda and Chinese government operatives had waged a campaign of computer sabotage targeting the United States and its allies.

The WikiLeaks website suffered its own “cyber attack” hours before the release of the documents, with unknown hackers trying to stop the publication.

The White House last night condemned the “reckless and dangerous action” in releasing the classified US diplomatic cables, saying it could endanger lives and risk relations with friendly countries.

Robert Gibbs, a White House spokesman, said: “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 around the world.”

A Foreign Office spokesman said: “We condemn any unauthorised release of this classified information, just as we condemn leaks of classified material in the UK.

“We have a very strong relationship with the US government. That will continue”.

Buckingham Palace said it had no information about any allegations of inappropriate behaviour by a member of the Royal family.

It is not known who was the source of the leak, however there has been speculation that it could have come from Bradley Manning, a US Army soldier, who has been accused of leaking and transmitting national security information.

He was charged in July.

It also emerged that Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, had been rebuffed by the US government after he sought information “regarding individuals who may be 'at significant risk of harm’ because of” his planned release of classified documents.

His unusual move to open an 11th-hour dialogue about the documents came after a Swedish appeals court last week upheld an arrest warrant on rape charges for Mr Assange, validating an international warrant.

Mr Assange, who denies he has committed any crime, was believed to have recently spent time in London but his whereabouts yesterday were unknown. He had been under investigation in Sweden since August over rape.

One report said that Wikileaks had 251,287 cables from 270 US embassies and consulates from a single computer server.

The leaked documents went on to make further allegations. They claimed that Iran had obtained missiles from North Korea to give it the capacity to launch strikes on capitals in Western Europe for the first time.

According to a cable dated last Feb 24, North Korea sent to Iran 19 of the missiles, capable of carrying a nuclear warhead. Intelligence agencies believe Tehran is some way from developing a nuclear warhead. The officials said the deal had significantly advanced Iran’s development of intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Other findings include how since 2007, America had mounted a highly secret effort to remove from a Pakistani research reactor enriched uranium for a nuclear bomb. Frustrations with Pakistan were reflected in reported comments by King Abdullah who called President Asif Ali Zardari the greatest obstacle to progress, adding: “When the head is rotten, it affects the whole body.”

The cables reveal the desperate attempts by the US administration to find homes for former Guantánamo Bay detainees.

In one instance Slovenia was told to take a prisoner if it wanted to meet with President Obama. In another accepting prisoners would be “a low-cost way for Belgium to attain prominence in Europe”.

The cables also detailed suspicions of corruption in the Afghan government after the vice-president was caught with $52 million (£33 million) in cash on a visit to the United Arab Emirates last year.

They also detailed how one state department communiqué had named Saudi donors as the chief financiers of al-Qaeda, while China was engaged in a global effort to hack into Google’s computers.

Wikileaks embassy cables: The key points at a glance

US standoff with Pakistan over nuclear fuel: leaks

By Masroor Gilani (AFP) – 7 hours ago

ISLAMABAD — The United States has led top secret efforts to remove highly enriched uranium from Pakistan for years, worried it could be used to make an "illicit" nuclear device, according to leaked US cables.

The New York Times said they were among quarter of a million confidential American diplomatic cables released by whistleblower WikiLeaks in what Pakistan condemned as an "irresponsible disclosure of sensitive official doucments".

The country's nuclear arsenal is one of the most sensitive topics for the United States as it tries to improve relations with the conservative Muslim nation on the front line in the campaign against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

Parts of Pakistan's northwest is gripped by a homegrown Taliban insurgency. Its semi-autonomous wild border area with Afghanistan is subject to a covert US drone war targeting Taliban and Al-Qaeda leaders.

Islamist militants embarked on a nationwide bombing campaign across Pakistan in 2007, the same year that the Times said the secret efforts began.

In May 2009, it quoted then US ambassador Anne Patterson as saying that Pakistan was refusing to schedule a visit by American technical experts.

The Times attributed the reason to a nameless Pakistani official who said: "If the local media got word of the fuel removal, 'they certainly would portray it as the United States taking Pakistan?s nuclear weapons'".

Islamabad has been adamant that its nuclear weapons are in safe hands and US President Barack Obama has publicly concurred.

But the Times said the leaked documents showed the United States trying to remove the uranium from a research reactor, fearing it could be diverted for use in an "illicit nuclear device".

The newspaper did not elaborate on how the United States had sought to remove the uranium or the nature of any such device.

Experts estimate that Pakistan already has up to 100 nuclear weapons.

Pakistan's foreign ministry said it had been offically informed of the leaks by the US government in advance.

"At this stage we are examining the relevant documents and their contents," ministry spokesman Abdul Basit told AFP when asked about the Times report.

The United States has longstanding concerns about proliferation from Pakistan and is reported to have set up an elite squad that could fly into the country and attempt to secure its weapons should the government disintegrate.

Pakistan announced that it had nuclear weapons in 1998, scrambling to secure the technology after India's first nuclear test in 1974.

Western analysts believe China assisted Pakistan in developing the Khushab nuclear site to produce plutonium, which can be miniaturised for cruise missiles -- presumably aimed at India.

In 2004, Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father of Pakistan's bomb, confessed to running a nuclear black market that sent secrets to Iran, Libya and North Korea. He was put under house arrest for five years.

Although he retracted his remarks, US officials say he is still a risk.

Pakistan also opposes a proposed Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty, which would limit access to highly enriched uranium and plutonium used to make weapons.

Pakistan says the treaty would give a permanent nuclear imbalance to India, with which it has fought three full-fledged wars since independence in 1947.
Day 1, Sunday 28 November

There are no fewer than 251,287 cables from more than 250 US embassies around the world, obtained by Wikileaks. We present a day-by-day guide to the revelations from the US embassy cables both from the Guardian and its international media partners in the story.
The US faces a worldwide diplomatic crisis. More than 250,000 classified cables from American embassies are leaked, many sent as recently as February.

• Saudi Arabia put pressure on the US to attack Iran. Other Arab allies also secretly agitated for military action against Tehran.

• Washington is running a secret intelligence campaign targeted at the leadership of the United Nations, including the secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, and the permanent security council representatives from China, Russia, France and the UK.

• Details of the round-the-clock offensive by US government officials, politicians, diplomats and military officers to curb Iran's nuclear ambitions and roll back its advance across the Middle East.

• How Israel regarded 2010 as a "critical year" for tackling Iran's alleged quest for nuclear weapons and warned the United States that time is running out to stop Iran from acquiring a nuclear bomb.

• The secret EU plot to boycott the inauguration of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president after the disputed Iranian election in 2009.

• Officials from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) were denied blueprints for a secret nuclear reactor near Qom and told by Iran that evidence of bomb-grade uranium enrichment was forged.

• Saudi Arabia complained directly to the Iranian foreign minister of Iranian "meddling" in the Middle East.

• The US accused Iran of abusing the strict neutrality of the Iranian Red Crescent (IRC) society to smuggle intelligence agents and weapons into other countries, including Lebanon.

• Britain's ambassador to Iran gave the US a private masterclass on how to negotiate with Iran.

• How a 75-year-old American of Iranian descent rode a horse over a freezing mountain range into Turkey after officials confiscated his passport.


• The story of how the 250,000 US embassy cables were leaked.

• Background on Siprnet: where America stores its secret cables.

• Editor's note: publishing the cables.

• Explore the Guardian's searchable database of the leaked embassy cables

Der Spiegel

A long piece in English primarily about the US view of Germany, including some bracing views of Berlin's leadership and the description of Chancellor Angela Merkel as "risk averse and rarely creative".

New York Times

The New York Times highlights US intelligence assessments that Iran has acquired missiles from North Korea which could for the first time enable Tehran to strike at western European capitals.

El País

A trawl through the 3,620 documents in the haul originating from the US embassy in Madrid, dating from 2004 to this year (in Spanish).

Le Monde

The French paper also leads on the allegations of US spying on UN leaders but also covers Washington's view of France, as gleaned from the cables (in French). President Nicolas Sarkozy is described as "susceptible and authoritarian", and a French diplomatic adviser has described Iran as a fascist state and Venezuela's president Hugo Chávez as a madman transforming his country into another Zimbabwe.

Kabul says US relations unaffected by Karzai claims

Afghanistan said Monday its relations with the United States would not be affected by leaked cables portraying President Hamid Karzai as weak and paranoid, and his brother as a corrupt drugs baron.

The American diplomatic cables raised the issue of suspected high-level corruption within the Afghan government, long a concern among Western backers who see it as undermining the nine-year war against the Taliban.

Internet whistleblower WikiLeaks has begun releasing a quarter of a million confidential US diplomatic cables, detailing embarrassing and inflammatory episodes in what the White House called a "reckless and dangerous action".

But Karzai's spokesman Waheed Omer told a news conference the leaks "won't have any impact on the strategic relations between the US and Afghanistan".

"We don't see anything substantive in the document that will strain the relationship," Omer told reporters, adding: "We'll wait and see what else comes out before making further comment."

On leaked US criticism of Karzai as an "extremely weak" leader, which follows negative US media reports, Omer said: "Such comments are not new. But the president... will carry on with what he thinks is good for Afghanistan."

US diplomats described Karzai in the documents as "driven by paranoia" and "conspiracy theories".

The leaked cables also reveal American feelings about the president's younger brother Ahmed Wali Karzai, long dogged by claims of unsavoury links with the lucrative opium trade and private security firms, which he denies.

Western officials have kept quiet in public on the tainted record of the president's half brother, who is a powerful figure in Kandahar, where US forces are leading the fight to break the Taliban.

But one note, that followed a meeting between the younger Karzai and US envoy Frank Ruggiero in September 2009, revealed:

"While we must deal with AWK (Ahmed Wali Karzai) as the head of the provincial council, he is widely understood to be corrupt and a narcotics trafficker."

Kandahar is a make-or-break battleground in the US-led fight to defeat the insurgency, and the United States has poured thousands of extra troops into the area to wrest initiative from the Taliban and bolster the Afghan government.

"The meeting with AWK highlights one of our major challenges in Afghanistan: how to fight corruption and connect the people to their government, when the key government officials are themselves corrupt," the report said.

In the 2009 meeting with American and Canadian officials, the president's brother urged the allies not to fund small-scale cash projects -- a cornerstone of its counter-insurgency strategy -- but to build large mega-projects instead.

"Given AWK's reputation for shady dealings, his recommendations for large, costly infrastructure projects should be viewed with a healthy dose of scepticism," the report said.

"We will continue to urge AWK to improve his own credibility gap," said the report, adding that both Ahmed Wali Karzai and Kandahar governor Tooryalai Wesa had tried to influence the awarding of contracts in the province.

Ahmed Wali Karzai also showed disdain for elections in the region, the report said, claiming that local elders were better placed to provide governance.

In a second meeting in February, Ahmed Wali Karzai told Ruggiero that he was willing to take a polygraph test to prove his innocence over claims of his involvement in the opium trade.

"He appears not to understand the level of our knowledge of his activities, and that the coalition views many of his activities as malign, particularly relating to his influence over the police," said the cable.

"We will need to monitor his activity closely."

Another cable from the US embassy in Kabul said former vice president Ahmed Zia Massoud carried 52 million dollars in cash to Dubai last year.

The cable referred to the cash as "a significant amount" that Massoud "was ultimately allowed to keep without revealing the money?s origin or destination," it said.