WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration may replace its ambassador to Libya due in part to strains in ties caused by the envoy's blunt assessment of Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi in confidential documents obtained by WikiLeaks, State Department officials said.
The officials said Wednesday that the envoy, veteran diplomat Gene Cretz, may be moved from his post in Tripoli over fears that his candid reporting of Qaddafi's eccentricities may have compromised his ability to work with Libyan officials. Cretz has held the job for more than two years.
The officials said Libyan officials have expressed displeasure with the WikiLeaks revelations of Cretz's cables on the behavior of Qaddafi. But they stressed that replacing Cretz would not be punishment for the ambassador's straightforward and honest reporting.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because a decision about Cretz's future has not yet been made.
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Cretz is in Washington for consultations that will include possible damage caused by the WikiLeaks and whether or not he will return to Libya.
"One of the issues that we are concerned about in the aftermath of WikiLeaks is the impact that these leaks can have on our relationship overall or the relationship between an ambassador and the government with which he or she deals," he told reporters. "We have an improving relationship with Libya. It's a very important relationship to the United States.That said, it is a complex relationship and the ambassador's here to reflect on both where we stand in that relationship and his role as part of that."
Cretz was nominated to be the first U.S. ambassador to Libya in 36 years by President George W. Bush in July 2007 after a remarkable turnaround in U.S. relations with the North African nation.
The seismic shift in relations followed Qaddafi's 2003 renunciation of weapons of mass destruction and payment of compensation to the families of victims of 1980s terror attacks, including the bombing of PanAm 103 blamed on Libyan agents.
Cretz had kept a relatively low profile in Libya until November, when WikiLeaks posted his assessments of Qaddafi's personal life and habits in a classified 2009 diplomatic cable.
Entitled "A Glimpse into Libyan Leader Qadhafi's Eccentrities," the secret document said Qaddafi "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." It also discussed Qaddafi's long-time reliance on a Ukrainian nurse named Galyna who the cable said had been described as a "voluptuous blonde."
Libyan officials are notoriously sensitive about descriptions of Qaddafi and in March 2010 threatened diplomatic retaliation over a joking comment by Crowley, the State Department spokesman. Crowley later apologized for the remark, in which he had poked fun of a lengthy speech Qaddafi had given at the United Nations the previous September.