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Former US Ambassador to Yemen Weighs in on Wikileaks Scandal

Cecily Hilleary | Washington 10 December 2010

Among the countries which have been mentioned in the leaked U.S. diplomatic dispatches is Yemen. Some analysts worry that the leaked information could give al-Qaeda an edge in that country.

Barbara K. Bodine served as U.S. chief of mission to the Republic of Yemen from 1997 through 2001. She also was the first U.S. diplomat put in charge of Iraq, specifically the capital Baghdad, just after the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. Ambassador Bodine is currently Diplomat-in-Residence and Lecturer at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public & International Affairs.

She tells VOA English for the Middle East Reporter Cecily Hilleary that while the published cables did not reveal any great surprises, they are likely to have long-lasting diplomatic repercussions.

Hilleary: Some analysts say that the Wikileaks scandal is a huge blow to U.S. diplomacy abroad. Other say that the media are making more out of the leaks than is necessary, that this is just a lot of “hype.” What do you think?

Bodine: It almost reminds me of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, where in the beginning it looked just like another oil spill. And as it went on, and the amount that was coming out and the inability to stop it - I think I would probably make a parallel to the Gulf oil spill.

Hilleary: Let’s get to Yemen specifically. There are a couple of cables - there are actually three here. One of them has Prince Mohamed bin Nayef, the son of Saudi Arabia’s Interior Minister, describing Yemen as a “failed state” and an “extremely dangerous state.”

Bodine: Well, the fact that his comments to us were made public, of course, is damaging. I do think it is fair to say that I don’t consider that a major revelation.

I think the fact that the Saudis have probably long considered Yemen a failed state, that’s always been a very awkward relationship, and deeply concerned about the spillover of instability in Yemen into Saudi Arabia, particularly from Mohamed bin Nayef, who of course was one of the first high-profile targets of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. That, in and of itself, is not major news. I would be very surprised if actually a cable reported a view different than that.

Hilleary: The cables also confirm that it was the United States military that carried out missile strikes against local al Qaeda in southern Yemen last year - strikes that killed dozens of civilians. And they also reveal that Yemen’s president Ali Abdullah Saleh deceived the Yemeni people about this. He told them and parliament that it was Yemen who struck at Al Qaeda, using American weapons.

Bodine: And confirming that, again, it is dangerous. It is damaging. There’s no question about it. Again, however - has been a fairly public understanding. I mean either Human Rights Watch or Amnesty International had confirmed that earlier. The confirmation of that through private channels, the fact that we may have known about it before it was public - yes, that is a problem.

Hilleary: There are analysts who are saying that all of this plays right into Al Qaeda’s hands. What do you think the ultimate fall out will be?

Bodine: Again. I think you do bring up a critical point. How is this going to be used by people like al Qaeda? How is this going to be used to further their cause and to embarrass both the Yemeni government and us? A lot of the information in these cables is not particularly new.

But it is the context in which it is discussed and the way it can be exploited by people, the way it can also put not just President Saleh, but a lot of the other people that we talk to on a regular basis, in a position where we’re not going to be able to have these kinds of conversations.

Hilleary: Only a couple of hundred cables have been posted thus far, creating this much embarrassment and trouble. But apparently the website’s acquired more than a quarter of a million cables - which means we probably haven’t seen anything yet. As a former ambassador, as a diplomat, are you nervous about seeing your name in print one day?

Bodine: Given the sheer number of cables that have been leaked, I think the odds are that at least one of my cables will probably be among the stack. Yes. I find that extremely difficult.

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