The Cable

Clinton snubbed by Iranian foreign minister; WikiLeaks has K Street scrambling

The U.S. diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks offer unvarnished insights into the personal proclivities of world leaders.
Foreign Policy's Josh Rogin
Wednesday, December 8, 2010; 5:45 PM

Clinton gets snubbed - twice - by Iran's foreign minister

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton tried to speak with her Iranian counterpart twice during a gala dinner last week in Bahrain, pursuing him both inside and outside the dinner at the Ritz Carlton. Each time, Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki deliberately avoided contact with her.

"If he comes to the dinner, I'll probably see him. But he doesn't talk to me," Clinton told The Cable in our exclusive interview just hours before the event in Manama.

Turns out she was right. Everybody at the opening dinner for the 2010 International Institute for Strategic Studies Manama Security Dialogue, where Clinton gave the speech, was watching to see if she and Mottaki would trade words. After all, they were seated only five seats apart.

Clinton's first attempt came just as the dinner ended. All the leaders sitting at the head table were shaking each other's hands. Mottaki was shaking hands with Jordan's King Abdullah II when Clinton called out to him.

"As I was leaving and they were telling me, 'Hurry up, you have to get to the plane,' I got up to leave and he was sitting several seats down from me and he was shaking people's hands, and he saw me and he stopped and began to turn away," Clinton told reporters on the plane ride home.

"And I said, 'Hello, minister!' And he just turned away," said Clinton, adding that Mottaki seemed to mutter something in Farsi but was clearly trying to avoid her.

At a press conference the next day, Mottaki had a different take on the interaction.

"Some people said that last night at the dinner Hillary Clinton said hello to me as I was greeting the king of Jordan," he said. "According to the Islamic tradition, there is a necessity to respond. . . . The people of this region are very famous for being polite."

The next attempt by Clinton came outside the conference space, in the driveway while both leaders were waiting for their motorcades to pull up. Again, Clinton called out to Mottaki with a greeting and again, Mottaki refused to respond.

After Clinton left town, the delegation heads had lunch at a local Japanese restaurant. Two witnesses confirmed that as part of the opening greetings, Mottaki shook hands with Assistant Secretary of Defense Alexander Vershbow. Both witnesses said they were sure Mottaki had no idea at the time that he had just shaken hands with a U.S. government official.

WikiLeaks and K St.

Working as a Washington lobbyist for a foreign country is usually a pretty sweet gig. These hired guns keep governments informed on anything in town that could affect their country's diplomatic or political interests. They charge a hefty fee, and, generally speaking, crises are rare.

That's not the case lately, though: It's all hands on deck on K Street, as firms are fielding frantic and constant requests from diplomats in foreign capitals, trying to make sense of the released and soon-to-be-released WikiLeaks State Department cables.

"Everybody from senior officials to embassy personnel to Washington consultants are in a mad scramble to go through each new batch of documents as they come out to identify items that are potential vulnerabilities, paint their bosses in an unflattering light, or reveal some sensitive information," said one consultant with clients in Europe and Asia.

At the embassies themselves, foreign diplomats are collecting as much information as possible about the coming leaks that reference their own country. One European diplomat said that his embassy had set up an around-the-clock monitoring system to make sure that if something breaks, they will be ready to handle it immediately.

"We are in 24-hour mode; somebody is always watching and waiting. When we [at the embassy] sleep they [back home] watch, and when they sleep we watch," the diplomat told The Cable.

Media 'Statecraft'

Before the WikiLeaks crisis, the State Department began a new initiative called "21st Century Statecraft," which includes a drive to expand openness and combat government censorship in cyberspace.

As part of that initiative, the State Department announced on Tuesday that it will host UNESCO's World Press Freedom Day event in 2011, meant to champion the free flow of information on the Internet. The event will be held at the Newseum in Washington from May 1 to 3, and the theme will be "21st Century Media: New Frontiers, New Barriers."

Don't expect to see Julian Assange in attendance.

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