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Al Jazeera rejects leaked US claims

Al Jazeera has dismissed claims based on leaked US diplomatic cables that Qatar, the network's home, uses the news channel as a bargaining chip in foreign policy negotiations.

A report in The Guardian newspaper alleges that Qatari politicians use Al Jazeera as an "informal tool" to achieve foreign policy goals, ordering changes to the network's coverage in accordance with the country's national objectives.

Al Jazeera said the claims were "very far from the truth", insisting that its journalists operate with complete editorial independence despite facing pressure from international governments. 

The allegations are based on the latest release of classified US documents by the whistle-blowing organisation WikiLeaks.

They include details of a conversation between Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani, Qatar's prime minister (referred to in the documents as HBJ), and John Kerry, a US senator, about the faltering peace process between Israelis and Palestinians.

In the exchange, Al Thani explains that he was not impressed by Egypt's attempts to prevent a crisis summit during Israel's military attack on Gaza in January 2009 from being held in Qatar.

The cable quotes Al Thani as saying that Egypt used its anger at Al Jazeera as an "excuse".

"Qatar is worried, said HBJ, about Egypt and its people, who are increasingly impatient.  Mubarak, continued  HBJ, says Al Jazeera is the source of Egypt's problems.  This is an excuse.  HBJ had told Mubarak "we would stop Al Jazeera for a year" if he agreed in that span of time to deliver a lasting settlement for the Palestinians. Mubarak said nothing in response, according to HBJ."

Another cable, written in November 2009 by a US diplomat as a forecast of the next three years in Qatar, says that Al Jazeera's Arabic channel could be used by the government of Qatar as "a bargaining tool to repair relationships with other countries, particularly those soured by Al Jazeera's broadcasts."

But a statement released by Al Jazeera on Sunday dismissed the claims. "This is the US embassy's assessment, and it is very far from the truth. Despite all the pressure Al Jazeera has been subjected to by regional and international governments, it has never changed its bold editorial policies which remain guided by the principles of a free press."

The release of thousands of classified US documents sent shockwaves through the diplomatic world, and prompted a storm of criticism from governments dismayed at the scale of the security breach.


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