ASTANA (Reuters) - Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has done a lot of explaining to foreign leaders after the embarrassing Wikileaks release of U.S. embassy cables — but few needed as much placating as Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi.
Clinton took the opportunity of a meeting at a Kazakhstan summit to personally reassure the Italian prime minister, whose feathers were clearly ruffled by U.S. cables which called him “feckless” and a hard-partyer.
“We have no better friend, we have no one who supports the American policies as consistently as Prime Minister Berlusconi has,” Clinton told the news cameras as the two met.
“The United States, Republican and Democratic administrations like, know that they can count on the prime minister to support the policies and values that Italy and the United States share in common,” Clinton said.
Berlusconi has publicly laughed off the WikiLeaks cables, which focused on the 74-year-old prime minister’s private life and described him as “feckless, vain and ineffective as a modern European leader.”
But it appears they hit a nerve nonetheless. U.S. officials said Berlusconi brought the matter up with Clinton in their discussions in Astana, Kazakhstan’s futuristic capital.
“He noted that this had stimulated a lot of discussion in Italy and that was, not surprisingly, a problem,” one senior State Department official said, speaking on background.
Clinton decided to make the public comments for the media to set the record straight, the official said.
“She wanted to tell the world, the press, what she told him, and what America thinks,” he said.
Clinton has sharply criticized the leaks, which revealed a huge cache of classified U.S. diplomatic communication, underscoring that they do not reflect official U.S. policy and vowing that important U.S. alliances will not be shaken by the revelations.
In Kazakhstan, where she was attending a summit of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Clinton fielded questions about the WikiLeaks release from a number of leaders including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, officials said.
Clegg issued a statement saying the WikiLeaks dump would not affect Britain’s “uniquely strong” ties with the United States while Kazakhstan’s Foreign Minister Kanat Saudabayev appeared sanguine despite leaks discussing high-living officials in his own government.
“We will live through this,” he said.
At a news conference on Wednesday, Clinton appeared buoyed by the notion that her apology tour was working — although it may not be over yet.
“I have not had any concerns expressed about whether any nation will not continue to work with and discuss matters of importance to us both going forward,” Clinton said.
“I anticipate that there will be a lot of questions that people will have every right and reason to ask and we stand ready to discuss them at any time.”
She may not have long to wait.
The next batch of WikiLeaks questions will likely surface on Friday, when Clinton attends a security conference in Bahrain along with officials from many of the Arab nations which WikiLeaks documents said were privately pressing for a tough U.S. line on Iran.
Editing by Jon Hemming