Clinton Begins Effort To Limit Damage With Apology To UK

"Hillary Clinton expressed her regret to the UK today for disparaging remarks made about British politicians and troops in secret US diplomatic cables revealed by the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks.

Her remarks came as the US undertakes an expansive damage-limitation exercise to contain the impact on ties from the latest WikiLeaks revelations, including the publication in The Guardian on Thursday of cables showing the extent of the US military's scorn for Britain's four-year stewardship of Helmand province.

""I personally want to convey to the government and the people of the United Kingdom both my deep respect and admiration for the extraordinary efforts and our regret if anything that was said by anyone suggested the contrary,"" the US secretary of state said.

She added that it was essential for any government that its ministers, officials and advisers were able to speak frankly and in confidence with one another. ""I think everyone knows that if we cannot speak openly and candidly with each other, we can't understand each other and we can't make policy that will benefit each other,"" she said.

""I have found in my many conversations in the last week that there is certainly an understanding of what diplomacy means.""

Turning to humour as a means of defusing embarrassment, she added: ""As one of my counterparts jokingly said: 'Don't worry about it – you should see what we say about you!""'

However, the cables are far from being a laughing matter for foreign diplomats in Kabul who fear that the portrayal of the president of Afghanistan and his government in a deeply unflattering light will lead to a further slump in US-Afghan relations.

The US embassy, led by Karl Eikenberry, the ambassador who described Hamid Karzai in classified cables as ""a weak individual unfamiliar with the basics of nation-building"" has for the last week been engaged in pre-emptive damage limitation."