Dec. 1. 2010—, 2010 -- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi with both a smile and an explanation when the two met in Kazakhstan today for the first time since a raft of embarrassing secret diplomatic cables were released.
The Italian wasn't the only world leader to whom Clinton owed an explanation. The secretary of state arrived Tuesday in Astana, Kazakhstan, for a meeting on Afghan and regional security, but found herself surrounded by allies who American diplomats had described in less than diplomatic language.
In one cable, released this week by the Web site Wikileaks, Berlusconi is unflatteringly described as "feckless, vain and ineffective."
In her first international summit, since the documents were released, Clinton took the opportunity to clear the air.
"We have no better friend, we have no one who supports the American policies as consistently as Prime Minister Berlusconi has," Clinton told reporters as the two met amid handshakes and smiles.
Berlusconi laughed off the incident, but according to one source was angry that it created one more scandal in an already lengthy list for the Italian.
"He noted that this had stimulated a lot of discussion in Italy and that was, not surprisingly, a problem," a senior State Department official told Reuters.
Clinton said she did not believe the breach would seriously damage U.S. relations with any allies, but said she would discuss any foreign government's concerns over the leak.
"I have certainly raised the issue of the leaks in order to assure our colleagues that it will not in any way interfere with American diplomacy or our commitment to continuing important work that is ongoing. 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… I am confident that the work that our diplomats do every single day will go forward," she said.
Greeting Clinton when she arrived in Astana was Kazakhstan's prime minister, described in one lengthy cable as attending a nightclub and dancing alone for hours on a lighted stage. His defense minister was described as having drunk himself into a stupor.
"I believe that what has happened is part of a normal cost, or a normal price, that one has occasionally to pay while we lead our work. That is why we will be able to live through this incident, as we have through others. And, as head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in my country, now declare that this will have no effect for our strategic partnership between the United States and Kazakhstan," said Kazakh Forein Minister Kanat Saudabayev.
Also at the meeting of the organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe were French President Nicolas Sarkozy, described in one cable as "mercurial" and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, a confidant of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, whom American diplomats called "Robin to Putin's Batman."
German Prime Minister Angela Merkel was also at the meet in Astana.
Clinton next travels to the Middle East, where she will again confront leaders embarrassed by the cables.
The summit comes just a day after Wikileaks founder Julian Assange called for Clinton to resign.
In an online interview with Time magazine, Assange on Tuesday called on Clinton to step down "if it can be shown that she was responsible for ordering U.S. diplomatic figures to engage in espionage in the United Nations" in violation of international agreements.
The State Department denies instructing diplomats to spy on their foreign counterparts. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs today dismissed Assange's statement.
"I think that's absurd and ridiculous. I think Secretary of State Clinton is doing a wonderful job. I think the foreign policy that she and the president are pursuing will make us stronger in the world, will make our country safer," Gibbs said.
Wikileaks has previously dumped classified military documents pertaining to the U.S.-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but has come under increased scrutiny since it began releasing secret diplomatic cables on Sunday.
The Obama administration has warned the leaks will endanger lives, while talking down how the sometimes sordid revelations might hurt relations with important allies.
Several administration officials and members of Congress have suggested Assange be charged in U.S. court, despite being an Australian national who did not personally steal the documents.
Clinton has suggested Assange acted illegally and has promised "aggressive steps to hold responsible those who stole this information," and Attorney General Eric Holder said his threat to prosecute anyone involved in the obtaining and leaking the documents was just "saber rattling."
Interpol has joined the hunt for Assange, last believed to be in hiding in the United Kingdom, for an alleged sexual assault in Sweden.
Interpol issued an international alert for his arrest Tuesday because Swedish prosecutors said he has not made himself available for questioning.
Assange is wanted on suspicion of rape, sexual molestation and unlawful coercion. The exact nature of the allegations is unknown because formal charges have not been filed.
"Given that Sweden is a civilized country, I am reluctantly forced to conclude that this is a persecution and not a prosecution," Assange's lawyer Mark Stephens wrote the AP in an e-mail.