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African-European summit in Libya amid WikiLeaks uproar

posted 29 Nov 2010, 07:55 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 29 Nov 2010, 07:57 ]

Heads of states gather in Libya for the third African-European summit as WikiLeaks reveals the undiplomatic face of U.S. diplomacy, stirring global anger and embarrassment.

A third African-European summit opened in Libya on Monday (November 29), gathering various world leaders, some of whom had been cited in a vast new cache of U.S. diplomatic cables published by the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks.

In an embarrassing leak that undermines U.S. diplomacy, classified documents made public on Sunday (November 28) provided a rare glimpse of undiplomatic cables from U.S. embassies, including one focusing on the relationship between Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, the host of the summit, and his Ukrainian nurse.

The documents obtained by WikiLeaks, some of which describe allies and adversaries in starkly blunt terms, could undermine the Obama administration's efforts to improve ties that have frayed with some key countries in Europe, the Middle East and elsewhere.

One cable posted by The New York Times describes Gaddafi's insistence on staying on the first floor when he visited New York for a 2009 meeting at the United Nations and his reported refusal or inability to climb more than 35 steps.

Gaddafi, who has ruled Libya for over 40 years, is also said to rely heavily on his staff of four Ukrainian nurses, including a woman named Galyna Kolotnytska, who is described as a "voluptuous blonde".

While he did not comment on such rumours, a Ukrainian political officer recently confirmed that the Ukrainian nurses "travel everywhere with the Leader," the cable read.

As reported by The New York Times and other media, the cables at times deride or mock foreign officials, calling Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi "feckless, vain and ineffective as a modern European leader."

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

Italy's Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said on Sunday that the release of the classified documents will be the "9/11 of world diplomacy,", urging Italian prosecutors to investigate the whistle-blowing website.

Italian government officials are reported to have dismissed the leaks.

Another cable, according to the German daily Der Spiegel, spoke about the alleged close ties between Berlusconi and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, saying that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had asked representatives to Moscow and Rome to look into possible personal investments by the two leaders, which might influence their foreign and economic policies.

Der Spiegel also reported that according to the cables U.S. diplomats have cast doubts on the reliability of NATO ally Turkey, portraying its leadership as divided and permeated by Islamists.

The daily said advisers to Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan were described as having "little understanding of politics beyond Ankara."

Der Spiegel cited a cable as saying Erdogan had surrounded himself with an "iron ring of sycophantic (but contemptuous) advisors."

Turkey has traditionally close relations with Washington, but ties have been strained of late, partly as a result of Ankara's falling out with Israel over its invasion of Gaza.

The U.S. government condemned the release, saying it could compromise private discussions with foreign leaders and endanger the lives of named individuals living "under oppressive regimes."

The European Union and Africa hold their third summit under the theme of "Investment, Economic Growth and Job Creation."

Heads of state and government officials are expected to discuss peace and security, climate change, regional integration and private sector development, as well focus on infrastructure and energy, agriculture and food security, and migration.