France says stands by U.S. after WikiLeaks cables

PARIS (Reuters) - France said Monday it was standing by the United States as Washington faced the fallout from the release of thousands of secret diplomatic cables, calling the leaks a threat to democratic sovereignty.

Whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks Sunday released a trove of cables exchanged between Washington and U.S. embassies around the world, exposing the at-times brutal honesty with which diplomats view their foreign hosts, including France.

The documents describe President Nicolas Sarkozy as “touchy” and “authoritarian,” according to French daily Le Monde, one of five newspapers given access to the cables in advance.

They say German Chancellor Angela Merkel is someone who “avoids risk,” Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is “incapable” and describe Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin as an “alpha-dog.”

Government spokesman Francois Baroin said France was made aware of the cables before their release and pledged to support the United States, a NATO ally, in defending diplomatic secrecy.

“We are very supportive of the American administration in its efforts to avoid what not only damages countries’ authority and the quality of their services, but also endangers men and women working to defend their country,” Baroin, who is also budget minister, told Europe 1 Radio.

Sarkozy’s Elysee palace said it would not issue an official

reaction to the WikiLeaks release.

Sarkozy and President Barack Obama enjoy close, friendly relations. The U.S. State Department website describes France as its “oldest ally,” and notes that among NATO members Paris is right behind Washington in terms of troops deployed abroad.

“Authority and democratic sovereignty are threatened by such practices,” Baroin said of the WikiLeaks release of classified U.S. documents. “If there was such a thing as a French WikiLeaks, we would have to be inflexible (in dealing with it).”

While Italy’s foreign minister called the leaks the “9/11 of world diplomacy,” analysts believe international relationships will not be permanently damaged by the revelation of raw diplomatic views.

Reporting by Laure Bretton; Writing by Nick Vinocur; editing by Mark Heinrich