Explainer: World leaders seen through U.S. eyes

  • Image: Obama and Afghan President Karzai
    Jim Young  /  Reuters
    Afghan President Hamid Karzai, seen here with President Barack Obama at the White House on May 12, was among the world leaders whose name came up in leaked U.S. diplomatic cables.

    Called the "Sept. 11 of world diplomacy" by Italy's foreign minister, the leak of 250,000 U.S. diplomatic cables has revealed how some U.S. officials view certain world leaders. Below are some of those comments, along with initial reaction from abroad.

    Sources: Associated Press. Reuters and msnbc.com research

  • Dmitry Medvedev

    Image: Russian President Dmitry Medvedev
    Sergei Chirikov  /  AFP - Getty Images

    Russian President Dmitry Medvedev was described as playing “Robin to (Prime Minister Vladimir) Putin’s Batman.”

    A cable from the U.S. Embassy in Paris said U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates observed on Feb. 8, 2010, that "Russian democracy has disappeared and the government is an oligarchy run by the security services."

    Gates told his French counterpart that "President Medvedev has a more pragmatic vision for Russia than PM Putin, but there has been little real change," according to the document.

    According to a cable from Feb. 25, 2010, one of Washington's top diplomats, Under Secretary for Political Affairs William Burns, was told by Azeri President Ilham Aliyev that Medvedev is surrounded by people he does not control.

    "Many high-ranking officials don't recognize (Medvedev) as a leader," Aliyev was quoted as saying in a cable. Aliyev said he had seen Medvedev taking decisions that needed further approval and that some were stymied by others, presumably in the prime ministerial office.

    Image: Putin

    "He said that there are signs of a strong confrontation between the teams of the two men, although not yet between Putin and Medvedev personally," the cable added.

    "We have a saying in Azeri, 'Two heads cannot be boiled in one pot'" (street slang suggesting that two leaders are spoiling for a fight)," Aliyev was quoted as saying.

    Another cable said Medvedev’s wife Svetlana “remains the subject of avid gossip,” suggesting the first lady had compiled a list of officials who should be made to “suffer” due to their alleged disloyalty to her husband.

    Medvedev's spokeswoman said "the Kremlin has found nothing interesting or worth comment" in the cables. Referring to the Batman and Robin description, she said that "fictional Hollywood heroes hardly deserve official comment."

    Putin's spokesman declined to comment, but a diplomatic source said that Russia "regrets" the release, adding: "Digging into diplomatic underwear is not a nice business."

  • Moammar Gadhafi

    Image:  Libya's leader Muammar Gaddafi

    Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi was characterized as erratic and was said to rely heavily on his staff of four Ukrainian nurses, including a woman named Galyna Kolotnytska, who was described as being "a voluptuous blonde".

    Another cable told how Gadhafi "appears to have an intense dislike or fear of staying on upper floors, reportedly prefers not to fly over water, and seems to enjoy horse racing and flamenco dancing."

    The cable also read: "Some embassy contacts have claimed that Gadhafi and the 38-year-old Kolotnytska have a romantic relationship. While he did not comment on such rumors, a Ukrainian political officer recently confirmed that the Ukrainian nurses 'travel everywhere with the Leader.'"

  • Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

    Image: Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

    Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was referred to as "Hitler" in one U.S. diplomatic cable. Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt referred to Iran "as 'evil', an 'existential threat' and a power that 'is going to take us to war.'"

    Ahmadinejad said the leaked memos recounting Arab calls for the U.S. to launch a strike on Iran's nuclear facilities were intended to stir "mischief."

    "We don't give any value to these documents," Ahmadinejad told a news conference. "It's without legal value. Iran and regional states are friends. Such acts of mischief have no impact on relations between nations."

    He alleged the leaks were an "organized" effort by the U.S. to stir trouble between Iran and Arab neighbors.

  • Nicolas Sarkozy

    Image: Sarkozy

    French President Nicolas Sarkozy was described as an "emperor with no clothes."

    The French government issued a statement saying it was “very much in solidarity with the American administration.” Francois Baroin, spokesman for the French government, described WikiLeaks as a "threat against the authority of a democratic society."

  • Hamid Karzai

    Image: Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai

    Afghan President Hamid Karzai was said to be "an extremely weak man who did not listen to facts but was instead easily swayed by anyone who came to report even the most bizarre stories or plots against him."

    Other cables described U.S. officials' meetings with Karzai's half-brother, who heads a provincial council in southern Afghanistan. Ahmad Wali Karzai was depicted as an operator who doubts the value of elections and "is widely understood to be corrupt and a narcotics trafficker." The cable was dated October 2009 and signed off by Ambassador Karl Eikenberry.

    The secret messages from Kabul to Washington also allege that a former vice-president fled the country with over $50 million in cash, cables and media reports about the cache of documents say.

    "It won't have a noticeable effect on our broader strategic relationship with the U.S.," Karzai spokesman Waheed Omer told a news conference in Kabul, referring to the WikiLeaks release. "There is not much in the documents to surprise us and we don't see anything substantive that will strain our relationship, but there is more still to come."

  • Kim Jong Il

    Image: North Korean leader Kim Jong-il

    North Korea's leader was described as a "flabby old chap" suffering trauma from a stroke.

  • Silvio Berlusconi

    Image: Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi

    One cable from Rome to Washington described Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi as "physically and politically weak" and asserted that his "frequent late nights and penchant for partying hard mean he does not get sufficient rest."

    Berlusconi was also seen as "vain and ineffective as a modern European leader."

    Numerous cables also raised questions about Berlusconi’s relationship with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, with one saying Berlusconi “appears increasingly to be the mouthpiece of Putin” in Europe.

    Italy's Foreign Minister Franco Frattini called the leaks the "Sept. 11 of world diplomacy," in that everything that had once been accepted as normal has now changed.

    Berlusconi insisted he only throws elegant, dignified soirees at his villas. "I unfortunately have never in my life been to a wild party," he said laughing. "Maybe they're interesting. I've never been."

    Berlusconi said he didn't care to read what such diplomats had to report, saying "I don't look at what third-rate or fourth-rate officials say."

    Berlusconi has been accused of entertaining escorts and underage girls at his villas — allegations that have fueled a political crisis that has brought the government to a no-confidence vote in two weeks.

    He said once a month he hosts dinner parties at his homes because so many people want to see him. "At these dinners, everything that occurs is proper, elegant and dignified." Otherwise, guests wouldn't be allowed to take pictures, he added.

    Several beautiful young women have come forward over the past year detailing the dinner parties they attended at Berlusconi's villas in Rome, Milan and Sardinia and the gifts the premier allegedly gave them.

    The most recent, Nadia Macri, a 28-year-old self-described escort, has said Berlusconi paid her $13,000 — delivered in an envelope — for sexual favors after she was introduced to the premier by a television executive.

  • Angela Merkel

    Image: Merkel

    A U.S. diplomat described German Chancellor Angela Merkel as someone who “avoids risk and is seldom creative.”

    John Kornblum, a former U.S. ambassador to Germany, told German broadcaster ZDF that the disclosures could have a "severe" impact. "If you now speak with an American diplomat, you have to be worried that it will appear in the newspaper the next day," he added.

  • Recep Tayyip Erdogan

    Image: Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan
    Wael Hamzeh  /  EPA

    Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan was described as governing with incompetent advisors who have "little understanding of politics beyond Ankara." They were also described as an "iron ring of sycophantic (but contemptuous) advisors."

    Diplomats at the embassy in Ankara also characterized Turkey as heading toward an Islamist future and not one that would become a member in the European Union.

  • Prince Andrew

    Image:  Prince Andrew, Duke of York
    Chris Jackson  /  Getty Images

    Tatiana Gfoeller, the U.S. ambassador to Kyrgyzstan, reported that Prince Andrew spoke "cockily" at a 2008 brunch in that nation's capital with business people, leading a discussion that "verged on the rude".

    The prince, who is a special British trade representative, also attacked Britain's corruption investigators for what he called "idiocy".

    The prince, she added, "was referencing an investigation, subsequently closed, into alleged kickbacks a senior Saudi royal had received in exchange for the multi-year, lucrative BAE Systems contract to provide equipment and training to Saudi security forces."

    He went on to denounce Guardian reporters investigating bribery as "those [expletive] journalists … who poke their noses everywhere".

Video: WikiLeaks exposes overseas secrets

  1. Closed captioning of: WikiLeaks exposes overseas secrets

    >>> release of classified documents from wikileaks .

    >> reporter: this is the third and by far the biggest release of u.s. secrets by wikileaks . u.s. officials say some of these leaks pose a serious threat to national security . but almost all are stunningly embarrassing. it seems that no one is spared in these cables obtained by wikileaks . the personal critiques by u.s. diplomats almost read like a teenag teenager's tweets. thin skinned like an emperor with no clothes. libya's home mar gadhafi, strange. a it's not going pretty in many cases.

    >> other cables provided in advance to a number of media outlets reveal the secrets of u.s. operations overseas. efforts in yemen -- one cable in january says yemen told david petraeus we'll continue saying the bombs are ours not yours. and in an effort to get pakistan to hand over enriched uranium from these reactors, it ultimately failed to pakistan was afraid it would be portrayed a as the united states taking pack can's nuclear weapons.

    >> reporter: this could shake governments, it could end programs, and it could seriously imperil u.s. foreign policy .

    >> but one of the most embarrassing revelations may involve the u.s. state department . hillary clinton and condoleezza rice ordered intelligence services to gather intelligence on -- the prime suspect in these massive leaks remains pfc bradley manning who remains in military custody, charged with downloading thousands of state department documents, many of which reportedly appear in this latest wikileaks release. now on the heels of this latest dump of u.s. secrets, some members of congress are calling on the obama administration to try to actually shut down wikileaks and charge wick i can leak's operators with espionage. that's highly unlikely. so instead the state department and the pentagon are looking for ways to tighten up their security to try to prevent such massive leaks in the future.

    >> reporter:

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