WikiLeaks cables do not reflect official policies, says US State Department official

Information released by the WikiLeaks cables serve only as raw material, but are not policies, Jeffrey Feltman, US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs said in a conference call to a group of Middle-East based journalists.

“One of the basic functions of [our diplomatic missions] is to candidly report on the developments in countries and societies where we serve…By its very nature, field reporting that our diplomats send is raw information and is very preliminary, often incomplete information.”

Feltman insisted that no individual from WikiLeaks has direct access to the State Department’s communication system with its embassies around the world.

“Someone who has access to classified information was able to transfer this information to WikiLeaks people who did not have access to the system,” Feltman said, denouncing any conspiracies that US government officials are behind the disclosure. “There is no way professionals in our government would have engaged in such activities that have such damaging repercussions.”

Feltman also denounced any possible involvement of foreign intelligence agencies, although he left it to on-going investigations to decide.

Feltman added that US allies have raised a lot of concerns about the leaked cables, and their reactions have included a “mixture of astonishment and anger.”

“These WikiLeaks represent an attack on the international community as a whole. I know that there is a great concern for our friends and allies both inside governments as well as representatives of civil society and non-governmental [parties].”

US officials have raised concerns that the cables might jeopardize the safety of individuals who had been in contact with US diplomats in third world dictatorships.

Feltman did not specify what measures the US will take to protect individuals, especially non-governmental representatives, whose names appeared in the leaked cables. He only said that an evaluation process is underway.

He added that the leaks will have direct repercussions on the way diplomatic business is conducted, noting that some allies have requested that US officials refrain from taking notes in private meetings.

Feltman declined to comment on any issues brought up in the released cables. He said however that no big surprises were revealed in what has been leaked thus far.

“Public policies that are developed derive from a lot of private conversations. There are no huge surprises in any of the countries [we work with]… We’re reporting about things that contribute to policy making.”

“We’re taking actions to make sure communication is secure. Several steps are being taken to enhance the security of the system we’re working with,” he said.

He also refrained from commenting about the on-going case against Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks who was arrested yesterday in the UK on accusations of sexual offenses, but said that the Assange’s case had been going on long before the cable releases.

Feltman added that US State Department officials have been expressing their regret to their allies in the region.

“We are confident that the partnerships that [US  President Barack] Obama built and embassies have worked on on the ground will withstand this challenge. Our partnerships and our commitment to working with governments and civil society remain rock solid.”

The cables that have been leaked on Egypt so far include information about security measures in the Sinai peninsula, Egypt’s construction of an underground wall to block movement into the Gaza Strip, US pressure for reform on the Egyptian government, and Egyptian concerns about the upcoming Sudanese referendum next month, amongst other things.

Feltman has worked in the US foreign service since 1986 and has served across the Middle East region, including in Tel Aviv and Beirut, where he was the US ambassador from July 2004 to January 2008.

Feltman's influence in Lebanon has been widely reported about in the Arabic press. His name gained attention in 2006 when Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah called Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora’s cabinet the “Feltman Government.”  Nasrallah’s comment came during the Israeli military raid on Lebanon in July 2006, which the United States House of Representatives overwhelmingly supported.

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