There is little question that the latest batch of WikiLeaks documents, mainly from the State Department, make for fascinating reading.
Examples abound: Over the past nine years, Afghan President Hamid Karzai has seemingly morphed from being a rather happy fellow to a mercurial and paranoid one. Russian President Dmitri Medvedev “plays Robin to (Vladimir) Putin’s Batman.’’ North Korean leader Kim Jong-il is a “rather flabby old chap” who is “quite a good drinker.”
Some of the leaked cables are well-written and even amusing, with diplomats displaying a lively literary panache. That’s probably because, as many diplomats will tell you, that writing a good, lively cable is a way to get noticed back in Washington. It’s like reading a diplomatic gossip column.
But there’s also some serious stuff here as well. If you pull all the Iranian pieces together, for example, a quite interesting portrait emerges of coalition-building and policy formulation inside the U.S. government.
The United States is trying to contain Iran as Tehran allegedly bids to become a nuclear power. As the documents indicate, Washington has found considerable support among Gulf Arab states concerned about Iranian expansionism. Some of the Arab leaders see Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as dangerous, even unstable.
Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz appears especially hawkish in the WikiLeaks documents, even to calling for a military strike on Iran. The Saudi monarch is just as alarmed about Iran’s nuclear weapons program as Israel. Online analyst Caryle Murphy of the site GlobalPost says King Abdullah’s concern “gives some credence to media reports earlier this year that Riyadh has secretly agreed to give over-flight rights to Israeli warplanes in the event of an Israeli attack on Iran.” Saudi Arabia has vehemently denied such reports.
If the public statements don’t match the private ones – as is often the case in diplomacy – it is because the Gulf States also have to tread carefully when it comes to Iran. Some of those countries depend on Iran for access to trade routes to Central Asia. Others have homegrown militant Islamic groups, some of which are sympathetic to Iran and its ambitions. It’s a delicate tightrope to walk.
But the fact that there is such Arab concern about Iran is good news for the so-called P5+1 – the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany – as they prepare for a new round of nuclear talks with Iran. They are trying to build consensus in the international community to ratchet up the pressure on Tehran if it refuses to compromise on the nuclear issue. And consensus building is, after all, what diplomacy is all about.