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Diplomats tight lipped in wake of WikiLeaks

American diplomats, as well as their Egyptian counterparts, are being cautious about what they say following the WikiLeaks releases

Dina Ezzat , Monday 13 Dec 2010
Assange Photo: Reuters
A protester holds a picture of the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange during a demonstration in front of the British Consulate in Sao Paulo December 11, 2010. REUTERS/Nacho Doce
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"I am not sure how I can best describe it; I cannot say that I am not consulting openly, after all, this is what I am posted here for, but I guess that I am being extra-careful with the choice of my words. And yes, I guess I speak less," says an Egyptian diplomat in Washington.

Speaking to Ahram Online on condition of anonymity, the diplomat says that it is unrealistic for any diplomat consulting with American counterparts anywhere in the world, even "within the multi-lateral context" to say that the WikiLeaks release of confidential and classified cables from the otherwise protected files of the US State Department is not having an impact on diplomacy with the US.

"They look a bit anxious and they do seem to be less [welcoming] of confidential exchanges than before," says an Arab diplomat who recently participated in a Middle East political conference conducted under Chatham House rules. "I think it is obvious to [the US diplomats and think-tankers] that much less is said in their presence".

During the weekend, US Under-Secretary of State Jeffery Feltman – whose name was included in some of the broken into classified cables – acknowledged the work of US diplomats around the world being negatively influenced by the WikiLeaks releases.

And while it is true that most of the released cables were based on high-level meetings including heads of states, ministers and ambassadors, the lower-rank civil servants are still being apprehensive. "Of course I have to be careful; the damage is much higher to the diplomats of the lesser ranks than it is to senior diplomats and state officials," says the Egyptian diplomat.

And although the work of this diplomat does not require much, if any, contact with the US embassy in Egypt or visiting US diplomats, he is still being careful when he runs into an American diplomat in a reception or another social function. "It is not that I have access to any classified information or anything of the sort but you never know; better [to be] safe," he says.

The WikiLeaks cables have also become the subject of jokes in the Cairo-based foreign diplomatic corps. A Western diplomat who was hosting a dinner recently for some members of his embassy and those of other embassies told an American diplomat jokingly that he is being invited on condition that he would file no cables to the State Department on the dinner – not even about the menu and the wine.

"It was a joke and [the American diplomat] took it as a joke," says the Western diplomat. He added that the dinner was relaxed and that the gathering exchanged views on the recent parliamentary elections and the future of the presidency in Egypt.

 

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