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Information of public interest

The State Department cables show the limits of United States foreign policy

On Monday US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton used the term "attack on the international community" to refer to the release of State Department documents, which were first published that day by several major newspapers in Europe and the United States. It was Wikileaks - an organization created for the purpose of releasing information of public interest that governments and their agencies try to keep hidden - that obtained and divulged information related to the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, which the US authorities considered secret.

On Monday five newspapers, including EL PAÍS, began the publication - subject to ethical precautions in some cases - of some 250,000 State Department reports and exchanges with its embassies throughout the world obtained by Wikileaks, revealing information and opinions of undoubted public interest. Previous Wikileaks stories had exposed the underlying reasons for some of Washington's major decisions, rendering intelligible some acts that seemed hard to explain.

According the Vienna Convention, embassies have the right to obtain any sort of information in the states where they are located, provided they use licit means. The information in the documents now revealed does not prove that the United States has broken any law; this will depend on the means used to obtain it. But the instructions issued by the State Department often demand information that is difficult or impossible to obtain by accepted means. The documents show an excessive tendency in US official agencies, and probably in those of other countries, to "classify" information that should not be secret. Transparency is the principal guarantee against arbitrary behavior in public powers, including corruption. Diplomatic relations should never be an area that is somehow immune to the demand for transparency.

One very relevant issue revealed in these documents is the strategy of the United States and its allies in connection with the Iranian nuclear program. The leaks reveal that the Gulf oil monarchies share the fears of the international community. The problem is that Tehran has now also learned of its neighbors' intentions and fears concerning Iran's growing hegemony in the region, of which the nuclear program is a principal instrument but not the only one. The de facto alignment of the positions of some Arab governments with that of Israel may have a high internal political cost for them, quite apart from the fact that it makes a clear-cut strategy against Tehran all the more urgent.

Nuclear proliferation in the Gulf is not a regional matter; it affects world security. The documents make it clear that all the parties involved are inclined toward options that seem to rule out the complete denuclearization of the region - the only option that would necessarily imply a general settlement for conflicts that, like that of Israel and Palestine, have unjustifiably faded into the background.

The Middle East has a great potential to destabilize international security. Above all else, the documents on it, and those on other regions such as Europe and Latin America, leave an impression of serious deterioration in global political leadership.

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