Leaked diplomatic cables will include 3325 from US Embassy in Colombo

The US diplomatic cables leaked by whistle-blowing website Wikileaks includes 3325 as-yet unreleased missives from the US Embassy in Colombo, making the Embassy in Sri Lanka among those hardest-hit by the scandal.

Wikileaks, in conjunction with several newspapers in the UK and Europe such as the Guardian, will stagger the release of 250,000 cables over the next few days. Today’s leak has already sparked diplomatic crisises all over the globe.

Correspondence already released includes urging by Saudi Arabian leaders for the US to attack Iran to disrupt its nuclear programme, while leaders in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates described the country as “evil”, an “existential threat” and a power that “is going to take us to war”.

The Guardian’s newspaper’s report on the leaks noted that former president of the Jordianian senate, Zeid Rifai, had told “a senior US official” to “bomb Iran, or live with an Iranian bomb. Sanctions, carrots, incentives won’t matter.”

The leaked cables included allegations that Russian intelligence agencies were using mafia bosses to conduct criminal operations, with one cable claiming that the country was “virtually a mafia state.”

According to the Guardian’s report, the cables also identified “intense US suspicion” around the “extraordinarily close relationship” between Russia Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in relation to “lavish gifts”, “lucrative energy contracts” and “shadowy” contacts.

The cables identify Saudi Arabian donors as allegedly “the biggest financiers of terror groups”, and disclose an “extraordinarily detailed account” of plans to disguise the bombing of al-Quaeda targets with the assistance of countries such as Yemen.

Hacking attacks directed at Google, which prompted the search giant to leave China, were reportedly ordered by a senior member of the Chinese politburo after he typed his name into the popular search engine and found disparaging articles written about him.

One of the most controversial leaks concerns a directive requesting the specification of communications equipment and IT systems used by top UN officials and details “of private VIP networks used for official communication, to include upgrades, security measures, passwords, personal encryption keys.”

Maldives Foreign Minister Dr Ahmed Shaheed noted that former US President Richard Nixon had tapes of his conversations leaked in the early ’70s.

“Nixon used a few choice phrases to describe some close allies. It didn’t damage [international] relationships, but he may have upset some of the people he referred to,” Dr Shaheed said.

The correspondence includes 3325 as-yet unreleased cables from the US Embassy in Colombo, some of which may concern the Maldives.

Dr Shaheed told Minivan News that while he doubted the dispatches would be as sensational “as some people think”, “it will make the US uncomfortable when some of its confidential reports go public.

“However I don’t think it will damage US ties in this region because, by and large, this not central region for US diplomacy and they US has not been brokering difficult negotiations – what the US has been saying here it has been saying very publicly,” he added.

Dr Shaheed confirmed that the US Embassy in Colombo had notified the Maldivian government that the release of the cables was likely, “however they don’t know what the contents are or the areas they will [concern].”

Cultural Affairs Officer and Spokesperson for the US Embassy in Colombo, Glen Davis, told Minivan News that the US would not be commenting specifically on the contents of the leaked cables.

“Cable traffic is very preliminary; pieces are incomplete and read out of context, they are easy to misconstrue,” he said.

“A disclosure like this is bad for contacts, harmful to global engagement and makes it difficult to tackle problems such as organised crime and nuclear proliferation. Washington has taken very aggressive action to ensure the privacy of future communication is secure.”

Davis added that the US Embassy was “determined to keep doing what we’re doing, and reassure the people we work with. It’s hard to see [how the leak] will lead to constructive results.”

The UK High Commission in Colombo said it was official policy “not to comment on the substance of leaked documents.”

However, it condemned the “unauthorised release of this classified information, just as we condemn leaks of classified material in the UK. They can damage national security, are not in the national interest and, as the US have said, may put lives at risk. We have a very strong relationship with the US Government. That will continue.”

The diplomatic cables were drawn from the US government’s Secret Internet Protocol Router Network (SIPDIS), a separate US military-run internet that is accessible to approximately three million Americans. The US reportedly suspects that the leak originated from the same source as the Iraq and Afghan war logs, 22 year-old US soldier Private Bradley Manning, who was posted as a junior intelligence officer in Baghdad.


Taliban true to Islamic Ideology, claims Pakistani Tourism Minister

Pakistan’s Federal Minister for Tourism has said that the Taliban truly represent Islamic ideology, resulting in their vilification by the United States of America, according to local media reports in the country.

Maulana Attaur Rehman was reported by the Pakistan-based newspaper Dawn to have made the claims at a public gathering in the country this week, claiming terrorism cannot be defeated unless the US and the world gave respect and equal rights to “the muslims”.

Rehman is a member of Pakistan’s Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam political party, the newspaper adds.

“Ulema and Taliban are the true followers of Islamic ideology and America is the biggest terrorist of the world, which is creating hatred against them,” said Rehman.

“It is a misconception that ulema and Taliban are against coexistence of people with different religions, in fact it is America which is against the interfaith harmony to maintain its hegemony on the world,” he added.


Maldives grappling with globalisation, says foreign policy expert

The Maldives is grappling with the positive and negative aspects of globalisation, says South Asia security expert Professor Stephen Cohen, formerly of the US Department of State and now senior fellow in Foreign Policy Studies at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

Speaking to Minivan News during a recent visit to the Maldives, Professor Cohen suggested that the Maldives faced a unique set of challenges as a generally homogenous society, relative to the ethnic and religious diversity of neighbouring countries.

“This is a state [which is coping] with the negative and positive aspects of globalisation – one aspect was the decision to become a tourist resort destination in the 70s, but then [a negative aspect] in recent years is that this has established targets for attacks such as those in Bali or Mumbai,” he said.

“The state has to protect those targets, and the Maldives is not a state with giant capability. If there is an [extreme] Islamist element in the country, is there the intelligence capability to monitor them? Can they be put in jail? Can the government anticipate and break up a plot? We won’t know until it happens.”

In the absence of such evidence, Professor Cohen suggested, a balanced policy of appeasement “I think is the only viable strategy.”

“But you have to watch out for the Afghan model, where they played both sides against the middle but eventually lost control. The Nepalese played both sides, balancing India and Pakistan, Israel and the Palestinians, America and the Chinese, but lost sight of their own domestic political process.”

The Maldives, he suggested, could successfully avoid picking a side “as long as it remains an ‘out of the way’ place – they don’t have minerals or oil, so I think they’ll get away with it.”

Nonetheless, the country’s delicate economy and the import of radical Islam meant the nation had shades of Pakistan in the 1950s-1960s, “to the degree that Maldivians are now travelling to places like Pakistan for training,” Professor Cohen said.

A debate over whether an Islamic country such as the Maldives could reconcile itself with dependence on a liquor-selling tourism industry was part of a larger modernisation dialogue happening in countries like Turkey, he said. “Can Islam be tolerant, and how can it deal with extremists in its own ranks? Can you have a modern Muslim state, compatible with the rest of the world? They are finding ways of working around it.”

The Maldives had the foreign policy advantage of having few natural resources coveted by other states, Professor Cohen noted.

“Strategically the Maldives is the soft underbelly to Sri Lanka,” he said, before adding that the reason countries were interested in the small island nation was less to do with its location and more that they did not wish it to fall into the hands of anybody else.

“Everybody wants an independent Maldives – they want to be able to send tourists, and ships. The Maldives is lucky in that it has no disagreements over oil or fish, and while the tourist islands are a delicate asset, I think [the government] understands that.”

As an aside, Professor Cohen recalled his time at the US State Department and noted US involvement in tracking suspected players in the failed 1988 coup by mercenaries linked to the People’s Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE).

“It’s a little known fact,” he said. “A passing American vessel transiting in the area picked up the escaping ship and pointed [the pursuers] towards it. I had only just left the State Department but I heard about it. It was a pivotal moment in the country’s history, and its purpose was never quite clear.”

Now, Professer Cohen said, the Maldives is challenged with balancing relations between its larger neighbours and major tourist markets such as China.

“China practices a very skillful kind of low-profile diplomacy. They seem to be able to find what a country needs the most,” Professor Cohen observed. “I’ve seen it in Pakistan – Americans are hated in Pakistan, but the Chinese are beloved. And along come the requests for favours.”

It was difficult to measure the effect of such soft power, he said.

“All you are buying is a moment of hesitation in the mind of the policy maker, when they balance the pros and cons. That’s where the influence is, and that’s where you get your money’s worth.”


Newsweek labels Nasheed ‘Green Guru’ for climate change work

The second largest weekly magazine in the United States, ‘Newsweek’, has awarded President Mohamed Nasheed the title of ‘green guru’ and placed him second among nine other world leaders who have ‘’won serious respect’’ in different global fields.

“As president of an island nation imperiled by rising sea levels, Mohamed Nasheed has become a hero among environmentalists,’’ said Newsweek. “In the run-up to last year’s United Nations climate-change meeting, Nasheed attracted global attention by hosting a cabinet meeting underwater.’’

The paper said that former Vice President of the US, Al Gore, who is also an environment activist, had taken to quoting President Nasheed on matters relating to the human cost of climate change.

‘’In April, the UN elected [Nasheed] one of six “2010 Champions of the Earth,’’ said the magazine.

Achim Steiner, director of the UN Environment Program, praised Nasheed as a politician who is “showcasing to the rest of the world how a transition to climate neutrality can be achieved and how all nations, no matter how big or small, can contribute.”

Britain’s new Prime Minister, David Cameron, tops the list of ‘best world leaders’ in the political magazine, which has a global circulation of 1.5 million.

Newsweek also names President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India, President Lula da Silva of Brazil and President Lee of South Korea in its list of top world leaders.

Image: Newsweek magazine


US Ambassador mediates between President and opposition parties

President Mohamed Nasheed met last night with four of the country’s opposition parties, in a meeting arranged by US Ambassador Patricia Butenis to try and resolve the current deadlock between the executive and the legislature.

The US Ambassador recently attended the July 4 Independence Day celebrations at the Holiday Inn in Male’, organised by the Embassy. During the event, President Nasheed addressed Speaker of the Majlis Abdulla Shahid, saying he “is an honest man. We may have issues but I would like to work with him.”

Last night, representatives from the People’s Alliance (PA),Dhivehi Quamee Party (DQP), Jumhooree Party (JP), along with Deputy Speaker Ahmed Nazim and leader of the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) Ahmed Thasmeen Ali, met the president in a private meeting.

The President attended the meeting alone “and kept his own minutes”, a senior government official said.

Spokesperson for the US Embassy in Colombo, Jeffery Anderson, later confirmed that Ambassador Butenis arranged the meeting “between the President and the main opposition party”, but provided no further information.

Foreign embassies and international bodies have been eyeing the Maldives nervously ever since Nasheed accepted resignation letters from his cabinet in front of the media last week, fearing his actions could signal a reversion of the country’s nascent democracy.

Political Advisor for the President Hassan Afeef has confirmed the meeting took place, but would not discuss further details.

The President reportedly met DRP MP and Parliamentary Speaker Abdulla Shahid on an earlier occasion. Shahid said he did not attend last night’s meeting, and Thasmeen was not responding to calls at time of press.

Press Secretary for the President, Mohamed Zuhair, meanwhile claimed that “a new cabinet” will be established once the government has overcome the problems it faced.

“The cabinet resigned after accusing parliament of having a spirit of altering votes in exchange for money, and felt they were obstructed in their duties by the Majlis,” he said.

Under Secretary for the President’s Office, Ibrahim Rasheed, said that “corruption cannot be solved by discussing it with people who have already committed it.”

He also said that the government was “ready to discus and solve the issues” and called on the political parties to cooperate with the government in its effort to eliminate corruption.


US hosts Independence Day celebration in Male’

An event to celebrate 234th anniversary of the signing of the American Declaration of Independence was hosted by the American Embassy yesterday.

Speaking at the function, the new US Ambassador to the Maldives and Sri Lanka, Patricia Butenis, said the event marked a special occasion not just because it was America’s national day “but also because today marks the first time in recent memory that our embassy has hosted a July 4th celebration here in Maldives.”

American embassy staff and dignitaries played host to members of Maldivian government, the
opposition, Majlis speaker, diplomats, Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) and police personnel, representatives of NGOs and other invitees at the Holiday Inn in Male’.

The function began with the arrival of President Mohamed Nasheed and Vice President Dr
Mohamed Waheed, followed in quick succession by a hurried Ambassador Butenis.

A beautiful rendition of both the Maldivian National Anthem and the American National Anthem
was sung by a little girl called Medison, to kick start the event

“Medison is uniquely placed to sing it, as she is American and turned six years old on
July 26th – Maldives independence day,” said Glenn Davis, Cultural Affairs Officer at the US High Commission in Colombo.

Medison did perfect justice to the Maldivian anthem, pronouncing every word correctly, followed
by an equally beautifully-sung American anthem.

Complimented by President Nasheed on her singing, she said she had learned the Maldivian
anthem “from soccer practice”.

Ambassodor Butenis took the stage next, thanking President Nasheed for delaying his arrival to
coincide with hers.

Noting that Embassies across the world mark this event she said she could think of no better
place to celebrate July 4 than the Maldives.

“In many ways your own path to democracy resembles ours. Although you were never a colony
like us, you too achieved your full independence after a period of British influence in your affairs.”

She highlighted that this month, the Maldives marks the 45th anniversary of that event and that
looking back at America’s experience over the past 234 years, “I can tell you, the road to an
even more perfect democracy is both long and full of twists and turns.”

Noting the many obstacles faced along the way, she noted the civil war, racial and gender
inequalities, to the more recent bitterly-contested presidential election that had to be taken to the
Supreme Court to resolve.

Ambassodor Butenis said “overcoming each challenge required leadership, compromise and a
shared commitment to strive towards a strengthening of democracy.”

Noting that Maldives has undergone tremendous transition on multiple fronts, she said such
transitions always face difficulties.

“I wish I had the secret to make this work, but in the US partisan disagreements also impede
progress on some of the issues most important to Americans. I think the message from citizens
of both our countries to our political leadership is the same: seek compromise, dialogue and
civility and never lose sight of your charge to strengthen democracy and promote the common

President Nasheed was invited to the podium next and started by addressing the
Ambassodor Butenis, Speaker of Majlis, the Vice President and adding, “I’m sad to say I cannot introduce any

Ambassodor Butenis, standing nearby, interjected that “they were all invited,” evoking laughter
from the assembled dignitaries.

President Nasheed said that it was difficult days for Maldives, that there were things that could
be learned from Americans, and that despite the help and advice from many sides it was a big
challenge the country was facing.

“This is the biggest challenge the nation has faced – we are having a constitutional crisis.”

Hoping that the worst of it was over, the President said “there is no better course of action than

He went on to assure all those present, “including the good people of America and all citizens of the
Maldives, we will not do anything illegal, anything which is not prescribed by law.”

Alluding to the controversial tapes released today, he said voting in the Majlis was based on
corruption and bribery and not based on merit.

“When a cabinet resigns and accuses a whole institution,” things are gravely wrong, he said.

Nasheed added that he had been informed that MPs had been approached to sell their votes and telephone
conversations had come to light in a manner that “clearly implicates MPs in the act of buying and selling

President Nasheed said “this is not the kind of government, nor the kind of country we want to

Stressing the importance of dialogue and reaching agreement with those involved, President
Nasheed thanked the Speaker of the Majlis.

“The Speaker of the Majlis is an honest man. We may have issues but I would like to work with him,” Nasheed said, adding the way through the impasse now was to find amicable solutions.

He said Maldivians had not just elected him to be in the government, “but Maldivians have asked
us to implement democracy in Maldives.”

President Nasheed thanked the United States for “being a strong partner of the Maldives in
democracy – we have the same ideology and share the same beliefs.”

Afterwards Ambassodor Butenis and President Nasheed mingled with the invitees. The
Americans played perfect hosts, and along with the live music and delicious buffet, the first
Fourth of July celebrations in Maldives would have made even the Founding Fathers proud.