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NBC reports on reaction to leaks from Kabul to Cairo

Following the release of more than 250,000 classified State Department documents, foreign capitals are beginning to respond to how they were seen through the lens of local U.S. diplomats.

While U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton admitted that confidential reports by diplomats about other foreign diplomats  is basically what diplomacy is and has been going on for hundreds of years, there will surely be a few bruised egos abroad.

For instance, Italy’s Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was quick to say that he does not attend the “wild parties” alleged by U.S. diplomats in Rome, but that he hosts “elegant and dignified” dinner parties.

Here are a few of the reactions compiled by NBC News correspondents and producers in Egypt, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Germany.

By Charlene Gubash, NBC News Producer

CAIRO – In the Arab World, where much of the press is muzzled by all powerful regimes, the public is normally obliged to guess at the reality behind the rhetoric since spokesmen rarely speak and press briefings are almost non-existent. But the WikiLeaks cables have provided a deliciously rare "behind closed doors" view of many Arab leaders.

“Thanks to Wikileaks, I felt like a child who was allowed to listen to grown-up conversations for the first time," gushed "The Sandmonkey," a prominent Egyptian blogger.

The region’s favorite TV news venues – satellite channels Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya – reported extensively on the leaks implicating Arab leaders during Monday’s broadcasts.

There were two items that were considered to be the most explosive: Saudi Arabian King Abdullah’s repeatedly calling on the U.S. to strike Iran’s nuclear sites and Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak approaching Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas before Israel’s 2008 offensive on Gaza and asking if they would be willing to take over the Gaza Strip after the defeat of Hamas.

Some felt vindicated by the revelations. Hisham Kassem, former publisher of Egypt’s first independent daily newspaper, Al Masry al Youm, says the leaked documents provide "further exposure of how rotten and double-faced the regimes are: the double standard of public discourse on one hand and what is said behind closed doors on the other."

Sandmonkey also blogged about how the cables proved the duplicity that had been suspected all along. “There is now evidence that Egypt is aiding Israel in isolating Hamas; that Mubarak has nothing but utter hatred for the Muslim Brotherhood and utter distrust towards Qataris and Syrians; that the entirety of the Arab Gulf region, including Qatar, are weary of Iran’s lies and would love to see Iran gone or disarmed; and that they all would secretly support a strike on Iran from either the U.S. or Israel. The dichotomy between their rhetoric and actions was finally exposed as hypocritical and duplicitous to their people and the world.”

Kassem believed the leaks would provoke only short-term public outrage, but that the real fallout will be between governments whose officials pointedly criticized each other to the U.S. in leaked documents.

Sheikh Khalid Bin Ahmad Al Khalifa, Bahrain’s foreign minister, tweeted that the revelations "weakened diplomacy in general, U.S. diplomacy in particular."

Arab analysts in Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt concluded that Arab politicians won’t change their policies but will be more guarded in their future conversations with U.S. officials. "They are just going to get better at covering up information,” said Rania al Malky, editor-in-chief of the Daily News, an Egyptian English language newspaper.

Most observers believe that the public, now privy to the real state of affairs between their leaders and the U.S., will take the information in stride. "I think it is helpful, insightful and believable. It didn’t tell us something which is unbelievable," said Mervat Mohsen, head of news at Nile TV. But he added that most Egyptians are too caught up in major issues, like unemployment, to care.
Al Malky said that while the average Egyptian may doubt the veracity of the leaked information, opposition groups "will use the information to make a case against the government to the bitter end."

In any case, Clinton will be able to assess the fallout, public and private, when she meets several of her Arab counterparts this weekend in Manama, Bahrain, where she will give the opening speech before the annual Manama Dialogue.

By Atia Abawi, NBC News’ Correspondent

Allauddin Khan / AP

Afghan President Hamid Karzai, second from right, is met by his half brother Ahmad Wali Karzai, left, in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan on Oct. 9, 2010.

KABUL – One of the more interesting narratives in the WikiLeaks release describes American officials’ meetings in September 2009 and February 2010 with Ahmad Wali Karzai -- the half brother of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, a power broker in the Taliban’s home turf of Kandahar and allegedly a drug trafficker. 

The cables show a wide-ranging conversation – from Karzai’s attempt to promote himself as a U.S. partner, to his instance that he would take a polygraph test to dismiss rumors that he is a drug trafficker, to his fond recollections of his days as a restaurant owner near Chicago’s Wrigley Field.

In a phone interview on Monday, Wali Karzai said he was disappointed by the leaks – he is well aware of his reputation on the world scene but he believes he has done a lot to help the U.S. and international community.

“We invite them as guests and treat them as guests,” he said about his meetings with American officials, but expressed disappointment that his own countrymen were not treated with the same respect.  He mentioned that he met with Frank Ruggiero, the American diplomat describing his one-on-one with Karzai in the leaked cable, over 50 times. 

“America has done a lot for us; they’ve helped build our army, police forces and institutions. We are grateful for their efforts,” said Karzai.  But he added, “It’s going to be harder to talk to them in the future because we don’t know if what we are saying to them privately will be made public. But we won’t stop cooperating with them. This is about helping Afghanistan and we must work together for that.”

By Carol Grisanti, NBC News’ Producer
ISLAMABAD – Pakistan's Foreign Office was quick to issue an official statement criticizing the WikiLeaks release but added that the government was not in a position to comment on the authenticity of U.S. official documents.

Of most concern to Pakistanis were the comments by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia about Asif Ali Zardari, Pakistan’s president.  One cable quotes King Abdullah saying that Zardari was "the greatest obstacle to Pakistan's progress" and "when the head is rotten, it affects the whole body." 

Pakistan’s Foreign Office called the report "misleading and contrary to the facts" and went on to say that the king and the people of Saudi Arabia have always stood by Pakistan. “It is quite evident that these mischievous reports reveal the utter inadequacy of the author to grasp the essence of the Pakistan-Saudi relationship," the statement said. 

The cables also revealed U.S. concerns over Pakistan's nuclear facilities. According to the leaked documents, the U.S. has mounted a secret effort, since 2007, to remove highly enriched uranium from a Pakistani reactor. 

In May 2009, Anne Patterson, former U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, reported that the Pakistanis were refusing to schedule a visit by U.S. technical experts because, according to a Pakistani official, "if the local media got word of the fuel removal they certainly would portray it as the United States taking away Pakistan's nuclear weapons."

Abdul Basit, Pakistan’s foreign ministry spokesman, explained that the fuel in question was from a research reactor given to Pakistan in the 1960s by the United States. “Since 2007 they have been asking us to return that fuel," he said in an interview with NBC News. "Our position is that the fuel is our property and we cannot return it."

By Andy Eckardt, NBC News’ Producer

MAINZ, Germany – “The U.S. government is facing a disaster,” was the first line of German public broadcaster ZDF’s report on the WikiLeaks dump.

News stands in Germany prominently displayed the cover of Der Spiegel magazine on Monday morning, with its headline, “Revealed: How America Views the World.” The German magazine, one of the few media outlets worldwide to receive excerpts of the documents from WikiLeaks ahead of the general public, called the release "nothing short of a political meltdown for U.S. foreign policy.”

With a special focus on secret reports from Berlin's U.S. embassy, Der Spiegel wrote that the documents portrayed German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle in rather unflattering terms. Not great timing for Merkel and her governing coalition, which is already under increasing domestic political pressure – the international criticism of the German leaders via the links only adds to the bad news.

In the confidential U.S. diplomatic cables, Merkel was described as risk-averse and Westerwelle as largely powerless.

In one cable to the State Department in 2006, the then U.S. ambassador to Germany, William Timken, wrote that the tone of trans-Atlantic relations may have improved, but that Merkel "had not taken bold steps yet to improve the substantive content of the relationship."

Timken’s predecessor, Philip Murphy was highly critical of Westerwelle, writing that his thoughts “were short on substance," and that "Westerwelle's command of complex foreign and security policy issues still requires deepening.” 
Opinions on how damaging the revelations are for German-U.S. relations were mixed Monday.  

“Big secrets are not the problem, at least not in Germany,” John Kornblum, a former U.S. ambassador to Germany told ZDF.  "But if you now speak with an American diplomat, and you have to be worried that it will appear in the newspaper the next day, that is severe.”