Factbox: WikiLeaks shows undiplomatic face of U.S. diplomacy

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Classified documents made public on Sunday provided a rare glimpse of undiplomatic cables from U.S. embassies, including one questioning whether Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi had a romance with his Ukranian nurse.

The documents obtained by the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks, some of which describe allies and adversaries in starkly blunt terms, could undermine the Obama administration’s efforts to improve ties that have frayed with some key countries in Europe, the Middle East and elsewhere.

As reported by The New York Times and other media, the cables at times deride or mock foreign officials, calling Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi a “feckless” partier and describe Afghan President Hamid Karzai as “weak” and “easily swayed.”

Below are highlights of the embarrassing comments from the new WikiLeaks documents.

-- One July 2009 cable from the State Department’s intelligence bureau, posted by The New York Times, contains instructions to U.S. diplomats for collecting intelligence on the United Nations.

The directive, from U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, urges diplomats to collect biographical information on U.N. personnel, including such personal data as telephone, cellphone, pager and fax numbers and e-mail addresses; credit card account numbers; frequent flyer account numbers, work schedules, and Internet and intranet “handles” (or nicknames).

Among the issues on which the directive instructs diplomats to focus are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s plans on Iran.

Asked to comment on the matter, a senior U.S. intelligence official told Reuters: “It shouldn’t surprise anyone that U.S. officials at the United Nations seek information on how other nations view topics of mutual concern.

“No one should think of American diplomats as spies,” he added. “But our diplomats do, in fact, help add to our country’s body of knowledge on a wide range of important issues. That’s logical and entirely appropriate, and they do so in strict accord with American law.”

“Our diplomats are just that, diplomats,” said State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley. “They represent our country around the world and engage openly and transparently with representatives of foreign governments and civil society. Through this process, they collect information that shapes our policies and actions. This is what diplomats, from our country and other countries, have done for hundreds of years.”

-- The State Department cables contain tart and sometimes awkward comments on foreign leaders, according the Guardian newspaper, which does not include links to the actual documents in which the comments occur.

The newspaper says one 2008 cable characterizes the relationship between Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s president, and its Prime Minister Vladimir Putin as a partnership in which Medvedev, who has the grander title, “plays Robin to Putin’s Batman.”

It also says a cable describes Italy’s Berlusconi as “feckless, vain and ineffective as a modern European leader.” One cable from Rome to Washington describes Berlusconi as “physically and politically weak” and asserts that his “frequent late nights and penchant for partying hard mean he does not get sufficient rest.”

The newspaper says other documents describe how Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh was “dismissive, bored and impatient” during a meeting with White House counter-terrorism chief John Brennan; that a South African government official described Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe as “the crazy old man” and that the American Embassy in Paris regarded French President Nicolas Sarkozy as “thin skinned” with an “authoritarian personal style.”

-- One cable posted by The New York Times describes Gaddafi’s insistence on staying on the first floor when he visited New York for a 2009 meeting at the United Nations and his reported refusal or inability to climb more than 35 steps.

Gaddafi, who has ruled Libya for over 40 years, is also said to rely heavily on his staff of four Ukranian nurses, including a woman named Galyna Kolotnytska, who is described as a “voluptuous blonde”.

“Some embassy contacts have claimed that and the 38 year-old Kolotnytska have a romantic relationship. While he did not comment on such rumors, a Ukrainian political officer recently confirmed that the Ukrainian nurses “travel everywhere with the Leader,” the cable read.

-- Other cables posted by the New York Times describe U.S. officials’ meetings with Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s half-brother, who heads a provincial council in southern Afghanistan. Ahmad Wali Karzai is depicted as an operator who doubts the value of elections and “is widely understood to be corrupt and a narcotics trafficker.”

In one meeting, in which the Afghan official offers to take a polygraph test to put to rest rumors of his involvement in the drug trade, the cable asserts a need to “monitor his activity closely, and deliver a recurring, transparent message to him of where are redlines are and what we expect of him in the months ahead.

According to the Guardian, Hamid Karzai is described in another cable as “an extremely weak man who did not listen to facts but was instead easily swayed by anyone who came to report even the most bizarre stories or plots against him.”

-- Some of the documents date back decades, including a 1979 cable from one of the diplomats who was taken hostage in the American embassy in Tehran.

Reporting by Missy Ryan, Andrew Quinn and Mark Hosenball; editing by Jackie Frank