Tuesday, November 30, 2010

WikiLeaks: Singapore joins global chorus of disapproval

Prime News


Dec 1, 2010

WikiLeaks: Singapore joins global chorus of disapproval

SINGAPORE'S Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) yesterday joined the global chorus of disapproval over WikiLeaks' release of secret American diplomatic cables, saying it had deep concerns about the actions, which it called damaging.

A spokesman for the ministry said protecting the confidentiality of diplomatic and official correspondence is critical, and that is why Singapore has the Official Secrets Act.

He added: 'In particular, the selective release of documents, especially when taken out of context, will only serve to sow confusion and fail to provide a complete picture of the important issues that were being discussed amongst leaders in the strictest of confidentiality.'

The Foreign Ministry's comments followed the release of more documents yesterday, including one which recorded a meeting between Singapore's Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew and US Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg in May last year.

The leaked document recorded Mr Lee's opinions on a variety of East Asian issues, including what he called the 'psychopathic' leaders of North Korea, Beijing's relationship with the reclusive totalitarian state, and how he thought Mr Wang Qishan, a current vice-premier, could succeed Mr Wen Jiabao as Chinese Premier, instead of Mr Li Keqiang, another vice-premier who is widely expected to do so.

Other governments - both friends and foes of the United States - also lambasted WikiLeaks' actions yesterday.

Some said the revelations undermined diplomacy, while others dismissed them as worthless.

Many of the US' allies closed ranks behind it, despite the disparaging remarks some of its diplomats were shown to have made about their leaders.

Sweden's Foreign Minister Carl Bildt's condemnation of WikiLeaks typified many leaders' response.

'This will weaken diplomacy around the world. It will weaken diplomacy in general, but first and foremost, American diplomacy,' he said. 'I see this rather as something that is making the world less safe.'

French President Nicolas Sarkozy too denounced the release as 'the ultimate degree of irresponsibility', while Japan called it a criminal act.

While the leaks revealed diplomats' embarrassingly frank assessments of world leaders, America's friends - from Britain, France and Germany to Turkey and Afghanistan - stressed that ties would not be strained.

'We don't see anything substantive in the document that will strain the relationship,' Afghan President Hamid Karzai's spokesman Waheed Omer told reporters.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said: 'A few gossipy comments about European politicians are not exactly welcome, but they are not really important. But in other cases, people's lives could be put at risk.'

Russia, too, played down remarks about its leaders. 'Our own diplomats are sometimes just as open in their own private messages to each other,' a Kremlin official told the Kommersant business daily.

Even the US' foes dismissed the leaks.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called them 'worthless mischief'.

Casting doubt on their authenticity - especially those related to Arab fears of the Iranian nuclear threat - Teheran told its Arab neighbours not to fall into the whistleblower's 'trap'.

'This is a very suspicious plot. They have planted some Western and US crimes in them to present them as credible,' said Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast.

The condemnations were the strongest in Washington.

Said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at a press conference on Monday: 'This disclosure is not just an attack on America's foreign policy interests. It is an attack on the international community.'

Such leaks, she said, 'tear at the fabric' of responsible government.

'There is nothing laudable about endangering innocent people, and there is nothing brave about sabotaging the peaceful relations between nations,' she added.

Mrs Clinton had an early test of the impact of the leaks when she met Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmed Davutoglu, described in one leaked cable as having neo-Ottoman ambitions. The two officials talked in private about this but avoided questions in public.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs also described those behind the leaks as 'criminals, first and foremost' who had committed a 'serious' offence.

He confirmed reports of an ongoing criminal investigation into the theft and dissemination of sensitive and classified information. Sources say the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is examining everyone who came into possession of the documents, including those who gave the materials to WikiLeaks, and also the organisation itself.

The federal authorities are said to be investigating whether WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, 39, violated criminal laws in the group's release of government documents, including possible charges under the Espionage Act.

When Attorney-General Eric Holder was asked on Monday how the US could prosecute Mr Assange, who is an Australian citizen, he replied: 'This is not sabre-rattling... to the extent that we can find anybody who was involved in the breaking of American law... they will be held responsible.'

The massive leaks have prompted the US to clamp down on security and information-sharing procedures.

Analysts say that ultimately, Wiki-Leaks' move could affect not only information-sharing but also the nature of diplomacy as fears of further leaks dissuade diplomats from being frank in their communication.

'Transparency is fundamental to our society, and it's usually essential - but there are a few areas, including diplomacy, where it isn't essential,' noted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.


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