WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks released thousands of sensitive U.S. diplomatic cables on Sunday that include candid views of foreign leaders and blunt assessments of nuclear and terrorist threats.
Some of the cables made available to a handful of newspapers around the world provide an inside peek at U.S. diplomatic views and actions in North Korea, Iran, Pakistan and elsewhere.
The U.S. government condemned the release, saying it could compromise private discussions with foreign leaders and endanger the lives of named individuals living “under oppressive regimes.”
Here is a look at some of the main substantive revelations in the cables, published by the New York Times:
— China’s Politburo directed the intrusion into Google’s computer systems in that country, a Chinese contact told the U.S. Embassy in January, as part of a computer sabotage campaign carried out by government operatives, private experts and Internet outlaws recruited by the Chinese government. They have broken into U.S. government computers and those of Western allies, the Dalai Lama and American businesses since 2002, cables said.
— King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has repeatedly urged the United States to attack Iran to destroy its nuclear program and is reported to have advised Washington to “cut off the head of the snake” while there was still time.
— U.S. and South Korean officials discussed the prospects for a unified Korea should the North’s economic troubles and political transition lead the state to implode. The South Koreans considered commercial inducements to China to “help salve” Chinese concerns about living with a reunified Korea that is in a “benign alliance” with Washington, according to the American ambassador to Seoul.
— Since 2007, the United States has mounted a secret and so far unsuccessful effort to remove highly enriched uranium from a Pakistani research reactor out of fear it could be diverted for use in an illicit nuclear device.
— Iran has obtained sophisticated missiles from North Korea capable of hitting western Europe, and the United States is concerned Iran is using those rockets as “building blocks” to build longer-range missiles. The advanced missiles are much more powerful than anything U.S. officials have publicly acknowledged Iran has in its arsenal.
— When Afghanistan’s vice president, Ahmed Zia Massoud, visited the United Arab Emirates last year, local authorities working with the Drug Enforcement Administration discovered he was carrying $52 million in cash that a cable from the American Embassy in Kabul said he “was ultimately allowed to keep without revealing the money’s origin or destination.” He denied taking the money out of Afghanistan.
— American diplomats have bargained with other countries to help empty the Guantanamo Bay prison by resettling detainees. Slovenia was told to take a prisoner if it wanted to meet with President Barack Obama, and Kiribati was offered incentives worth millions of dollars to take in Chinese Muslim detainees. In another case, accepting more prisoners was described as “a low-cost way for Belgium to attain prominence in Europe,” a cable said.
— Saudi donors remain the chief financiers of Sunni militant groups like Al Qaeda, and the tiny Persian Gulf state of Qatar was the “worst in the region” in counterterrorism efforts, according to a State Department cable last December. Qatar’s security service was “hesitant to act against known terrorists out of concern for appearing to be aligned with the U.S. and provoking reprisals,” the cable said.
— The United States has failed to prevent Syria from supplying arms to Hezbollah in Lebanon, which has amassed a huge stockpile since its 2006 war with Israel, the cables said. One week after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad promised a top State Department official he would not send “new” arms to Hezbollah, the United States complained it had information that Syria was giving the group increasingly sophisticated weapons.
— Yemen has helped cover up the American role in missile strikes against the local branch of Al Qaeda. According to a cable, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh in January told General David H. Petraeus, then the American commander in the Middle East: “We’ll continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours.” This prompted Yemen’s deputy prime minister to joke that he had just “lied” by telling Parliament that Yemeni forces had carried out the strikes.
Writing by John Whitesides; Editing by Jackie Frank and Cynthia Osterman