LIBYA: More laughs, not many surprises in WikiLeaks releases on Moammar Kadafi
Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi sees no reason to submit a passport photo along with his U.S. visa application. After all, one of Kadafi's aides explained to an American diplomat, the colonel's picture is all over Tripoli.
"Any one of hundreds of billboards could be photographed and shrunken to fit the application's criteria," the aide said, according to one of a series of diplomatic cables released by the WikiLeaks website.
In the end, Kadafi was persuaded to have his picture taken, but the exchange is one of numerous illuminating anecdotes to surface from the latest WikiLeaks filing, which includes highly sensitive U.S. diplomatic cables.
As world leaders scramble to deal with the aftermath of the WikiLeaks release, Kadafi stands out not only for the entertainment value of his dossier but also his ability to weather scandal. After all, the same eccentric leader who insists on pitching an enormous bedouin tent in foreign capitals, keeps a cadre of female bodyguards and recently passed out copies of the Koran to an audience of paid Italian models is not going to be embarrassed by the disclosure that his favorite Ukrainian "nurse" accompanies him everywhere.
Although the leaked diplomatic cable listing Kadafi's odd habits was assigned the highest level of secrecy, many of the details were unsurprising or even benign for one of the world's most notoriously unconventional leaders.
According to the document, Kadafi's reputation for being "mercurial and eccentric" is well earned, as revealed in the logistical details of his schedule and travel:
He is afraid of flying over water for long periods of time and insists on staying on the first floor of any accommodation. He is also dependent on a close circle of trusted aides but appears to rely less on his famous female bodyguards, taking just one with him on a trip to the United Nations headquarters in New York. His favorite among four Ukrainian nurses in his employ, a "voluptuous blond" woman named Galyna Kolotnytska, is always by his side and may be involved romantically with Kadafi.
Kadafi's interests, based on a large celebration of his rule held in the capital, include horse racing and flamenco dancing.
The report's conclusions were perhaps surprising, given the strained nature of U.S.-Libyan relations. The diplomat writing the cable stressed that engagement is necessary to "overcome the misperceptions that inevitably accumulated during Kadafi's decades of isolation."
-- Meris Lutz in Beirut
Photo: Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi during an African Union summit in Uganda in July. Credit: Benedicte Desrus / Reuters