- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A first lady who has a problem showing a “full range of facial expressions” as a result of extensive cosmetic surgery?

A soulful rendition of “Layla” by rock legend Eric Clapton to thaw frosty U.S.-North Korea ties?

David Letterman: No. 1 weapon against religious extremism?

U.S. diplomatic cables leaked by the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks do not all contain state secrets bound to embarrass and upset governments.

Some reveal the acerbic wit of their authors.

Azerbaijan’s fashionable first lady, Mehriban Aliyeva, is the subject of a January cable that notes she underwent “substantial cosmetic surgery” that has curtailed her range of facial expressions.

Describing a September 2008 event at which Mrs. Aliyeva and her two daughters hosted Lynne Cheney, it says: “Prior to the Second Lady’s arrival, while the three ladies were waiting for Mrs. Cheney’s car, one Secret Service agent asked ‘which one of those is the mother?’ Emboffs (embassy officials) and White House staff studied the three for several moments, and then Emboff said, ‘Well, logically the mother would probably stand in the middle.’”

The suggestion that the U.S. government organize a concert in Pyongyang by Mr. Clapton reportedly came from North Korean officials who said it could build good will between Washington and Pyongyang.

The 2007 cable pointed out that North Korean leader Kim Jong-il’s second son, Kim Jong-chol, is a “great fan” of the British blues rocker.

Tales of hard-drinking officials are rampant.

An August 2006 cable describes how a “rather unusual,” three-hour-plus “alcohol-sodden lunch” between U.S. Ambassador to Tajikistan Richard E. Hoagland and Tajikistan’s minister of defense, Sherali Khairulloyev, had “helped place another brick in the wall of U.S.-Tajikistan military relations.”

The ambassador “lost track of the toasts after his tenth” and by the end of the lunch, Mr. Khairulloyev was slurring and unsteady on his feet.

Another message describes then-Kazakh Defense Minister Daniyal Akhmetov, who “appears to enjoy loosening up in the tried and true ‘homo-sovieticus’ style - i.e. drinking oneself into a stupor.”

Recounting a meeting between Mr. Akhmetov and a senior Defense Department official in June 2007, it said: “Slouching in his chair and slurring all kinds of Russian participles, Akhmetov explained to this very senior guest that he had just been at a cadet graduation reception, ‘toasting Kazakhstan’s newly-commissioned officers.’ “

“Who was toasted more - the Defense Minister or the cadets - is a matter of pure speculation,” the cable’s author noted dryly.

It’s not just feats of bacchanalia that make it into the cables.

Some messages obsess over the health and mindset of world leaders.

One cable was packed with all-caps questions about how Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner manages her nerves and anxiety, and whether her emotions affect her decision-making.

And when it comes to conquering extremism in the conservative kingdom of Saudi Arabia, night-time talk show host Mr. Letterman is described as an “agent of influence.”

American TV shows are extremely popular among Saudi viewers, with programs such as CBS and ABC Evening News, “Desperate Housewives” and “Friends,” all uncensored and with Arabic subtitles, notching up stratospheric ratings.

“Saudis are now very interested in the outside world, and everybody wants to study in the U.S. if they can. They are fascinated by US culture in a way they never were before,” said a person whose name was redacted from the May 2009 cable.

• Ashish Kumar Sen can be reached at asen@washingtontimes.com.

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