The homepage of the WikiLeaks.org website that released secret documents to international media on Sunday
Hundreds of thousands of leaked US state department documents reveal a hidden world of backstage international diplomacy, divulging candid comments of world leaders and detailing embarrassingly frank US assessments of a host of international leaders from Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, to Robert Mugabe, the Zimbabwean president.
The classified diplomatic cables released on Sunday provide often unflattering assessments of foreign leaders, including US allies such as Germany and Italy.
Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor
Diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks to German news magazine Der Spiegel include embarrassingly frank US assessments of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is described as a weak leader.
In a message attributed to a US diplomat in Berlin dated March 24, 2009, the magazine reports that the state department describes Merkel as "risk averse and rarely creative".
"The Americans argue that the chancellor views international diplomacy above all from the perspective of how she can profit from it domestically," the German magazine der Spiegel reported.
Merkel's vice-chancellor and foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, comes in for harsher criticism in the secret documents and is described as incompetent, vain and critical of America, Der Spiegel said.
An embassy cable from Berlin from September 22, 2009, days before the general election that put him in office, describes Westerwelle as having an "exuberant personality" but little foreign policy experience.
Muammar Gaddafi, Libya's leader
In a cable sent from Tripoli dated September 29, 2009, Gene A Cretz, the American ambassador to Libya, describes Gaddafi as a very colourful character who appears to have "an intense dislike or fear of staying on upper floors, reportedly prefers not to fly over water, and seems to enjoy horse racing and flamenco dancing"
"He reportedly cannot travel without his senior Ukrainian nurse, Galyna Kolotnytska," Cretz writes.
Cretz adds that the Libyan leader has been described as both mercurial and eccentric, and "our first hand experiences with him and his office ... demonstrated the truth of both characterisations".
Gaddafi is further described as "obsessively dependent on a small core of trusted personnel" and his chief of staff Basir Saleh plays a crucial role.
Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe's president
Christopher W Dell, the US ambassador to Zimbabwe, describes Mugabe as 'ruthless', 'clever' and "to give the devil his due, he is a brilliant tactician".
In a cable, classified as "confidential" sent on July 13, 2007, Dell writes that Mugabe has only been able to maintain power since 2000 through a "series of populist, but destructive and ultimately self-defeating moves".
The US ambasador concludes that Mugabe "will not go down without a fight ... he will cling to power at all costs". Dell outlines a series of possible scenarios for Zimbabwe, of which free and fair elections top the list. But Dell postulates that a South African-brokered transitional arrangement or government of national unity in Zimbabwe "is less attractive" as this would "only prolong than resolve the crisis".
Dell is equally candid of opposition leader Morgan Tsvangarai, describing him at once "brave". committed, "with star quality" as well as "indecisive", "not readily open to advice" and with "questionable judgement selecting those around him".
"Zimbabwe needs him, but should not rely on his executive abilities to lead the country's recovery".
Silvio Berlusconi, Italy's prime minister
The leaked cables show that Elizabeth Dibble, US charge d'affaires in Rome, described Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister, to be "feckless, vain, and ineffective as a modern European leader."
Another document from Rome reported that Berlusconi was a "physically and politically weak" leader whose "frequent late nights and penchant for partying hard mean he does not get sufficient rest," the paper reported.
And The New York Times said US diplomats in Rome expressed concern at Berlusconi's unusually close ties with Vladimir Putin, the Russian president.
One cable said Berlusconi appears "increasingly to be the mouthpiece of Putin" in Europe, the Times reported.
The reports mentioned lavish gifts, lucrative energy contracts and a "shadowy" Russian-speaking Italian intermediary, the paper reported.