WikiLeaks releases State Department cables

Documents reveal China’s role in shipments of missile parts to Iran

More than 250,000 classified State Department cables made public on Sunday reveal that China was urged to stop shipments through Beijing of missile parts from North Korea to Iran, and that Saudi Arabia’s monarch urged the United States to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities.

The Obama administration sought to minimize the diplomatic fallout from the disclosures on the Internet site WikiLeaks that provide a vivid inside look at U.S. diplomatic and intelligence reports, some as recent as February.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs condemned the release of the documents. “By its very nature, field reporting to Washington is candid and often incomplete information,” he said. “It is not an expression of policy, nor does it always shape final policy decisions.”

The cables “could compromise private discussions with foreign governments and opposition leaders, and when the substance of private conversations is printed on the front pages of newspapers across the world, it can deeply impact not only US foreign policy interests, but those of our allies and friends around the world,” he said in a statement.

Diplomatic cables are long-standing reflections of the day-to-day activities of State Department officials abroad who are required to report back regularly to headquarters on various issues as part of their duties. Similar reports have been leaked in the past, but the scale of the current disclosures is unprecedented.

On the North Korea-Iran missile trade, a 2007 report labeled “secret” said the Bush administration demanded that China block shipments of missile parts to Iran from North Korea, in violation of U.N. sanctions.

“We have identified a large number of shipments beginning late last year [2006] of what are probably ballistic-missile-related items that have transited Beijing, and we would like to share further information on these shipments,” the cable said.

The November 2007 cable from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice instructs the U.S. ambassador in Beijing to “raise at the highest level possible” U.S. concern about continued shipments of ballistic missile parts from Pyongyang to Tehran that transit China.

“We now have information that the goods will be shipped on November 4 and insist on a substantive response from China to this information,” the cable said, citing intelligence reports that “10 air shipments of jet vanes have transited Beijing thus far” and calling for action to “make the Beijing airport a less hospitable transfer point.”

Chinese Embassy spokesman Wang Baodong said earlier this month that China has abided by sanctions on North Korea.

Regarding Saudi Arabia’s King Abudullah’s urging military action against Iran, an April 2008 cable stated that Saudi Arabia’s U.S. ambassador “recalled the King’s frequent exhortations to the US to attack Iran and so put an end to its nuclear weapons program. ‘He told you to cut off the head of the snake.’ “

Among the disclosures the mass of cables are:

c Iran purchased a cache of 19 BM-25 missiles from North Korea, according to a Feb. 24, 2010, cable, according to the New York Times. The missiles will give Iran the capability to strike capitals throughout Europe.

c China’s Communist Party Politburo was behind the cyber-attack on Google uncovered last year, according to the New York Times. The cable from Beijing in January reported on a Chinese informant who told the U.S. Embassy of Chinese intelligence’s role in the much-publicized attack. The informant said the attack, which analysts say pilfered valuable trade secrets from Google and other U.S. high-tech companies, was executed by a team of government agents, private security personnel and hackers recruited by the government.

c The U.S. Embassy in Berlin had a network of informants inside the German government that provided details on Chancellor Angela Merkel’s efforts to form a government, Der Spiegel reported.

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About the Author

Ben Birnbaum

Ben Birnbaum is a reporter covering foreign affairs for The Washington Times. Prior to joining The Times, Birnbaum worked as a reporter-researcher at the New Republic. A Boston-area native, he graduated magna cum laude from Cornell University with a degree in government and psychology. He won multiple collegiate journalism awards for his articles and columns in the Cornell Daily Sun.

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