U.S. allies around the world have been briefed by American diplomats about an expected release of classified U.S. files by the WikiLeaks website that is likely to cause international embarrassment and could damage some nations' relations with the United States.
In Britain, Prime Minister David Cameron's spokesman, Steve Field, said Friday that the government had been told of "the likely content of these leaks" by U.S. Ambassador Louis Susman. Field declined to say what Britain had been warned to expect.
"I don't want to speculate about precisely what is going to be leaked before it is leaked," Field said.
'Judgments and facts'
Italy's foreign minister, Franco Frattini, said he spoke Friday with the U.S. State Department, which told him that there would be documents regarding Italy in the leak, "but the content can't be anticipated."
"We're talking about thousands and thousands of classified documents that the U.S. will not comment on, as is their custom," Frattini said.
He said the files could contain "judgments and facts" that damaged Italy's international reputation as the government complained of a widespread conspiracy.
The governments of Canada and Norway also said they had been briefed by U.S. officials. Israel's Foreign Ministry declined to comment on a report that it, too, had been informed.
The release is expected this weekend, although WikiLeaks has not been specific about the timing.
In Iraq, U.S. Ambassador James F. Jeffrey told reporters that the leaks represent a serious obstacle to international diplomacy.
"We are worried about additional documents coming out," he said. "WikiLeaks are an absolutely awful impediment to my business, which is to be able to have discussions in confidence with people. I do not understand the motivation for releasing these documents. They will not help, they will simply hurt our ability to do our work here."
In Norway, U.S. officials released a statement from the ambassador to the newspaper Dagbladet with the understanding that it would not be published until after the WikiLeaks material came out, but the newspaper published the material ahead of time.
It quoted U.S. Ambassador to Norway Barry White saying that, while he could not vouch for the authenticity of the documents, he expected them to contain U.S. officials' candid assessments of political leaders and political movements in other countries.
He said diplomats had to be able to have private, honest discussions to do their jobs.
Diplomatic cablesThe next release is expected to include thousands of diplomatic cables reporting corruption allegations against politicians in Russia, Afghanistan and other Central Asian nations, sources familiar with the State Department cables held by WikiLeaks told Reuters on Wednesday.
According to the London-based daily al-Hayat, the WikiLeaks release includes documents that show Turkey has helped al-Qaida in Iraq — and that the United States has supported the PKK, a Kurdish rebel organization that has been waging a separatist war against Turkey since 1984, the Washington Post reported.
The U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv warned the Israeli foreign ministry that some of the cables could concern U.S.-Israel relations, the Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz reported, citing a senior Israeli official.
'Hurt Italy's image'
Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's government in Italy vowed on Friday to defend the country's reputation and interests from what it said was a scheme designed "to hurt Italy's image on the international stage."
A government statement cited global media coverage of a number of high profile stories in recent days as "symptoms of a strategy" to damage Italy's international standing.
They included a probe involving defense group Finmeccanica, pictures of heaps of uncollected garbage in Naples and crumbling archaeological ruins in the ancient city of Pompeii but also the planned release of U.S. classified files by WikiLeaks.
Speaking to reporters on Friday, Frattini, the foreign minister, said that among the documents to be released by the whistleblowing website "there could be judgments and facts which could hit Italy as an international actor."
Berlusconi's center-right government has been struggling for months as a series of corruption scandals, a sluggish economy and bitter infighting have prepared the ground for a confidence vote on December 14 which could trigger early elections.
The statement, issued after a cabinet meeting, said Frattini had informed the cabinet about "delicate matters" and the need to act "firmly and with determination to defend the national image and protect the country's economic and political interests."
"This aim was unanimously shared by the cabinet," said the cryptic statement, which did not elaborate on who might be behind the alleged plot.
'Harmful to the U.S.'
The Obama administration said earlier this week that it had alerted Congress and begun notifying foreign governments that the whistle-blowing website is preparing to release a huge cache of diplomatic cables whose publication could give a behind-the-scenes look at American diplomacy around the world.
"These revelations are harmful to the United States and our interests," U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said.
"They are going to create tension in relationships between our diplomats and our friends around the world," he added.
Diplomatic cables are internal documents that would include a range of secret communications between U.S. diplomatic outposts and State Department headquarters in Washington.
WikiLeaks has said the release will be seven times the size of its October leak of 400,000 Iraq war documents, already the biggest leak in U.S. intelligence history.
The U.S. says it has known for some time that WikiLeaks held the diplomatic cables.
No one has been charged with passing them to the website, but suspicion focuses on U.S. Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, an intelligence analyst arrested in Iraq in June and charged over an earlier leak.
Frattini said Friday that he had been "told that the person responsible for this leak has been arrested." The Italian Foreign Ministry later said Frattini was talking about Manning.
WikiLeaks, which also has released secret U.S. documents about the war in Afghanistan, was founded by Julian Assange.
The Australian former computer hacker is currently wanted by Sweden for questioning in a drawn-out rape probe.
Assange, 39, is suspected of rape, sexual molestation and unlawful coercion. He has denied the allegations, which stem from his encounters with two women during a visit to Sweden.