King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia urged the United States to attack Iran to destroy its nuclear programme, according to US documents revealed by WikiLeaks and published by several newspapers on Sunday.
A cable to Washington from the US embassy in Riyadh recorded the king’s “frequent exhortations to the US to attack Iran and so put an end to its nuclear weapons programme.”
The memo said that the king told the Americans to “cut off the head of the snake,” and said that working with the US to roll back Iranian influence in Iraq was “a strategic priority for the king and his government.”
The documents also show US Defence Secretary Robert Gates believed any military strike on Iran would only delay its pursuit of a nuclear weapon by one to three years.
WikiLeaks on Sunday released around 250,000 classified cables – some sent as recently as February this year – to several media outlets worldwide. The Guardian reported that the documents were allegedly downloaded by a US soldier and passed on to the website. WikiLeaks chief Julian Assange said the released documents addressed “every major issue in every country in the world”.
According to a review of the WikiLeaks documents published by the New York Times, the documents show Saudi donors remained chief financiers of militant groups like al Qaeda and that Chinese government operatives have waged a coordinated campaign of computer sabotage targeting the United States and its allies.
Among scores of other disclosures that are likely to cause uproar, the cables detail grave fears in Washington and London over the security of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme, alleged links between the Russian government and organised crime and devastating criticism of the UK’s military operations in Afghanistan.
The cables also reveal how the US uses its embassies as part of a global espionage network, with diplomats tasked to obtain not just information from the people they meet, but personal details, such as frequent flyer numbers, credit card details and even DNA material.
Classified “human intelligence directives” issued in the name of Hillary Clinton or her predecessor, Condoleezza Rice, instruct officials to gather information on military installations, weapons markings, vehicle details of political leaders as well as iris scans, fingerprints and DNA.
The most controversial target was the leadership of the United Nations. That directive requested the specification of telecoms and IT systems used by top UN officials and their staff and details of “private VIP networks used for official communication, to include upgrades, security measures, passwords, personal encryption keys”.
Pakistan’s nuclear program
The cables reveals that since 2007, the United States has mounted a highly secret effort, so far unsuccessful, to remove highly enriched uranium from a Pakistani research reactor that American officials fear could be diverted for use in an illicit nuclear device.
In May 2009, Ambassador Anne W Patterson reported that Pakistan was refusing to schedule a visit by American technical experts because, as a Pakistani official said, “if the local media got word of the fuel removal, ‘they certainly would portray it as the United States taking Pakistan’s nuclear weapons,’ he argued.”
King Abdullah on Zardari
The cables also disclose frank comments behind closed doors. Dispatches from early this year, for instance, quote the aging monarch calling President Asif Ali Zardari the greatest obstacle to Pakistan’s progress. “When the head is rotten,” he said, “it affects the whole body,” reported the New York Times.
The Pentagon immediately condemned WikiLeaks’ “reckless” dump of classified State Department documents and said it was taking steps to bolster security of US military networks.
The White House said the leak of the diplomatic cables could compromise private discussions with foreign governments and opposition leaders and may put at risk the lives of named individuals living “under oppressive regimes.”
The US government, which was informed in advance of the contents, has contacted governments around the world, including in Russia, Europe and the Middle East, to try to limit any damage. Sources familiar with the documents say they include corruption allegations against foreign leaders and governments.
WikiLeaks had reported earlier on Sunday that its website was under attack, but said later that media outlets would publish some of the classified documents it had released even if the group’s website crashed.
“El Pais, Le Monde, Speigel, Guardian & NYT will publish many US embassy cables tonight, even if WikiLeaks goes down,” the website said in a Twitter posting an hour after it tweeted that its site was under attack.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 29th, 2010.