ASTANA, Kazakhstan — U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Tuesday kicked off a four-nation diplomatic tour dogged by the WikiLeaks disclosure of U.S. diplomatic cables, an act she called an assault on the international community.
WikiLeaks' release of more than a quarter million diplomatic files came up as Clinton fielded a series of questions from an audience of students and civic leaders at Eurasian University after meeting privately with several Kazakh women's rights and political leaders on her first visit to this Central Asian nation.
Only one of the 17 questions was about WikiLeaks, although another questioner asked Clinton's views about striking the proper balance between Internet freedom and protection of information and privacy.
"I've been thinking about it a lot lately," she said, apparently referring to Obama administration anxiety over massive posting of sensitive State Department documents. She did not get more explicit about the WikiLeaks case until another member of her audience asked directly what she thought about the matter.
She called the leaks "a very irresponsible, thoughtless act," and reiterated the administration's worry that it could endanger people cooperating confidentially with U.S. embassies abroad to point out acts of government abuse or violations of civil rights.
Speaking to reporters shortly before they met privately with Clinton, several Kazakh women who are leaders in business, politics and humanitarian work said they doubted the WikiLeaks affair would have any significant effect on U.S. relations with Kazakhstan or other countries in the region, including Russia.
Aigul Solovyeva, a member of the Kazakh Parliament, said reports that the WikiLeaks documents include unflattering mentions of top Kazakh government officials made for "entertaining reading" but are likely to have little impact.
"That's something we already knew about," she said, referring to reports of the lavish lifestyles of some government officials.
On Wednesday, Clinton is scheduled to attend a summit meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the first top-level meeting of the 56-nation group in 11 years. Also expected are many heads of government and top foreign affairs officials from across Europe, including some mentioned in the leaked diplomatic documents.
Clinton's trip was announced shortly after The New York Times and other international media began publishing stories Sunday based on the unauthorized release of diplomatic cables. Her trip had been planned much earlier.
Before departing Washington on Monday for an overnight flight to Kazakhstan, Clinton told reporters at the State Department that the leaks of documents should be of concern not only to Americans but to people across the world.
"Let's be clear: This disclosure is not just an attack on America's foreign policy interests," she said. "It is an attack on the international community — the alliances and partnerships, the conversations and negotiations that safeguard global security and advance economic prosperity."
Clinton also will visit the former Soviet republics of Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan for the first time in her nearly two years as secretary of state. She will then travel to Bahrain for a Middle East security summit.