Viewing cable 06REYKJAVIK359, Iceland: Press and Politicos Respond to Defense
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|06REYKJAVIK359||2006-09-27 18:06||2011-01-13 05:05||UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY||Embassy Reykjavik|
VZCZCXRO2283 OO RUEHAST DE RUEHRK #0359/01 2701803 ZNR UUUUU ZZH O 271803Z SEP 06 FM AMEMBASSY REYKJAVIK TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 2982 INFO RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC IMMEDIATE RUEHNY/AMEMBASSY OSLO IMMEDIATE 0259 RUEHNO/USMISSION USNATO PRIORITY 0231 RHMFISS/HQ USEUCOM VAIHINGEN GE PRIORITY 0034 RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 REYKJAVIK 000359 SIPDIS SENSITIVE SIPDIS DEPT FOR P (BAME), EUR/NB (MIDDLETON, MAHER), EUR/PPD SECDEF FOR OSD/RA (COSTA), OSD/P (KELSO, HURSCH) OSLO FOR DATT E.O. 12958: N/A TAGS: MARR PREL KPAO NATO IC SUBJECT: Iceland: Press and Politicos Respond to Defense Agreements REF: REYKJAVIK 357 REYKJAVIK 00000359 001.2 OF 002 ¶1. (SBU) Summary: Icelandic press reaction to the Prime Minister's September 26 announcement of the results of defense talks with the U.S. (Reftel) has been measured and largely favorable. Opposition party expressions of discontent center on two points: 1) the Government's failure to make public the details of U.S. plans for the defense of Iceland; and 2) complaints that the USG has "escaped" from full responsibility for any environmental mitigation costs. Post will continue to work with the media to fill in gaps in their knowledge and correct erroneous reports. End Summary. ¶2. (U) Media reporting on September 27, the day after Prime Minister Geir Haarde's announcement of the outcome of defense talks with the U.S. (reftel) was largely straightforward and accurate. Daily newspaper-of-record Morgunbladid (generally pro-government but viscerally critical of the U.S. decision to withdraw forces) ran its lead editorial under the headline, "A New Chapter": --After the U.S. conveyed its unilateral decision in March about departure of military forces, Iceland was put in a difficult negotiating position; --Icelandic authorities have done well under the circumstances and have ensured the nation's interests are protected; --The most controversial issue is that the U.S. doesn't have to pay for environmental clean-up; --The deal provides that the U.S. is responsible for defending Iceland, according to the 1951 Defense Agreement, even if means of providing that defense are not what Icelandic authorities wanted; and --The time has passed when Iceland could have relied solely on others for defense. ¶3. (U) The lead editorial in the high-circulation Frettabladid (which generally leans toward the opposition and is often skeptical of USG policy) appeared under the headline, "Back on Highway One" (i.e., back on track), and commented: -- Iceland retains a clear defense policy that ensures security of the nation, in which the U.S. plays the key role; and --It would have been irresponsible for the GOI to have abrogated the 1951 Defense Agreement (note: as some, including former PM David Oddsson, have suggested should have been done). ¶4. (U) The PM and key members of his Independence Party continued their media efforts as well: -- Haarde appeared on multiple TV news shows to reiterate and amplify the message from his initial press conference that the agreements ensure Iceland's continued defense, represent the best available outcome for both sides, and point to the way ahead for Iceland-U.S. security relations. --Minister of Justice Bjorn Bjarnason (comment: an early critic of the U.S. withdrawal; end comment) said he was pleased with the agreements and that people were "making too much of" environmental concerns regarding the base. Bjarnason (comment: one of Iceland's most security-conscious leaders; end comment) also voiced enthusiasm for increased police and counterterrorism exchanges between the U.S. and Iceland. -- Parliamentarian Bjarni Benediktsson, a rising leader of the next generation of the Independence Party, was trotted out on the talk show circuit to declare that the agreements secured the defense of Iceland and set the stage for future cooperation. ¶5. (SBU) Opposition figures also tried to get their views out, though they garnered less coverage: --Ingibjorg Solrun Gisladottir, chair of the leading opposition Social Democratic Alliance simultaneously welcomed the fact that there will be no foreign military forces stationed in Iceland during peacetime, and criticized the GOI for "leaving the public ill at ease" about its safety by agreeing to a "secret" defense plan. She REYKJAVIK 00000359 002.2 OF 002 further opined that Iceland should have gotten a better deal from the U.S. on environmental issues rather than "letting them leave without cleaning up." --Chairman of the (idiosyncratic, largely fishing-oriented) Liberal Party Gudjon Kristjansson said the GOI had done as well as it could, all things considered, but said he wished more had been done to explore closer cooperation with other NATO allies, particularly the Nordic states. ¶6. (SBU) Comment: The GOI should be - and, our contacts affirm, is - pleased with the tenor thus far of media coverage of the defense rollout. Gisladottir's failure to mount a persuasive counterattack reflects the discord within the Alliance, which - formed in 2000 from three disparate parties - has never established a formal policy on defense. Post will continue to work with the media to correct errors and fill in knowledge gaps, e.g. by offering data on the history of environmental mitigation at NASKEF, and - to counter anxiety over the absence of U.S. forces on the island - unclassified briefings on the expeditionary doctrine and rapid response capabilities of today's U.S. military. VAN VOORST