Whistle-blower website WikiLeaks released over 250,000 diplomatic cables on Sunday, providing frank opinions about foreign leaders and other sensitive information from the US State Department.
The cables, most from the last three years, contain unflattering views regarding leading world figures. In one document, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is summed up as being "risk-averse" and "not very creative."
"The Americans argue that the chancellor views international diplomacy above all from the perspective of how she can profit from it domestically," according to Der Spiegel, which, along with Britain's The Guardian and The New York Times had been given early access to the documents.
However, the reports show that US diplomats favor Merkel over Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, who Der Spiegel claimed was seen as "aggressive, vain and short on substance."
Westerwelle, leader of Merkel's coalition partners the Free Democrats, was described by the Americans as a "riddle" when he took on his Foreign Ministry role just over a year ago and was believed to maintain hostility to certain US interests.
'Doubts have been raised'
Meanwhile, the German goverment said on Monday that the disclosed information had not harmed German-US relations.
Government spokesman Steffen Seibert told reporters that Berlin "regretted the publication" but that relations with Washington remained "robust, close and in no way clouded by the affair."
However, Ruprecht Polenz, the chairman of Germany's Foreign Committee, was of the opinion that "considerable damage" had been done.
"The partners of the United States are under the assumption that what is discussed with them remains confidential. Now, certainly, doubts have been raised. Our American partners will have to work to dispel these doubts," Polenz said on German public television on Monday.
Shedding light on sensitive topics
The documents include sensitive and potentially destabilizing information, including the fact that King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia allegedly urged the US to attack Iran to destroy its nuclear program and that Saudi donors remain the chief financiers of militant groups like al Qaeda.
The Saudi monarch is reported to have pressed Washington to "cut the head off the snake" while there was still time. The documents also include details of Iranian missiles, obtained from North Korea, which would be capable of hitting western Europe.
Further topics that the release sheds light upon include China's alleged hacking of Internet giant Google, US fears about the smuggling of enriched uranium from Pakistan's nuclear program and American negotiations over the resettlement of Guantanamo Bay detainees.
Details were also provided of talks between the US and South Korea about the prospects for a unified Korea if political and economic troubles caused the North to implode as a state.
Pentagon condemns release as a 'reckless'
The emergence of the documents has been criticized by the US administration, with efforts being made to limit the potential diplomatic damage.
"These 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," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said in a statement.
The Pentagon, which was infuriated by the release of secret logs from the Afghanistan and Iran conflicts earlier this year, condemned the release as a "reckless" dump of classified documents that endangered lives and was against the law.
In response, the Pentagon said it had put into place measures to "prevent further compromise of sensitive data."
According to The Guardian, the diplomatic cables originate from a database run by the US military, which could be accessed by up to 3 million people.
Author: Gabriel Borrud, Richard Connor (AFP, dpa, Reuters)
Editor: Chuck Penfold