Viewing cable 06REYKJAVIK93, MEDIA REACTION FOR MARCH 18-20, 2006: U.S.
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|06REYKJAVIK93||2006-03-20 17:05||2011-01-13 05:05||UNCLASSIFIED||Embassy Reykjavik|
VZCZCXYZ0010 OO RUEHWEB DE RUEHRK #0093/01 0791700 ZNR UUUUU ZZH O 201700Z MAR 06 FM AMEMBASSY REYKJAVIK TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 2639 INFO RUEHNO/USMISSION USNATO PRIORITY 0187
UNCLAS REYKJAVIK 000093 SIPDIS USNATO FOR MIKIEWICZ SIPDIS E.O. 12958: N/A TAGS: NATO MARR PREL KPAO IIP ECA IC SUBJECT: MEDIA REACTION FOR MARCH 18-20, 2006: U.S. REMOVAL OF AIR ASSETS FROM NAVAL AIR STATION KEFLAVIK ¶1. Summary: Weekend media reaction to the U.S. decision to realign Keflavik Naval Air Station (NASKEF) took a sober turn as politicians and pundits assessed the cost of this development to their state's security and treasury. The national newspaper of record, whose editor is close to former PM David Oddsson, adopted an especially harsh line. Other coverage was more straightforward or even ironic, tapping what appears to be pent-up journalistic desire to imagine Iceland post-NASKEF. End summary. ----------------------- Five Stages of Mourning ----------------------- ¶2. If the universal stages of mourning are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance, then some members of the Icelandic intelligentsia have now entered the anger stage. Arguably Reykjavik had been in denial from 2003 (or even earlier) until March 15. Post still anticipates eager Icelandic entry into bargaining as soon as a U.S. negotiating team can come to Reykjavik. Weekend commentators meanwhile threw some brickbats: -- Morgunbladid (national newspaper of record, center-right, supports governing coalition; its editor is a close friend of former Prime Minister David Oddsson): In an editorial March 18: "Even though the United States made a unilateral decision to withdraw the helicopters and fighters, it cannot make a unilateral decision to remain here. In an interview with Morgunbladid yesterday, Carol van Voorst, the new U.S. Ambassador to Iceland, said that a new chapter in reliable defense cooperation would now commence. Really? What chapter is that? The U.S. Foreign Service has acquired great skill in saying a lot of fine words about nothing at all....(I)t would be advisable for the U.S. Ambassador to avoid any form of flattery right now. We can see through empty words." In an op-ed March 19: "Robert Loftis's statements in Morgunbladid yesterday are unconvincing: he said there was no point in having military aircraft stationed in Iceland, given the current situation....The cooperation that Loftis talked about probably involves only a continuation of the current cooperation between U.S. and Icelandic customs authorities, police, and border inspection authorities, which is important of course, but which cannot replace air defense....The real import of the U.S. decision...might therefore be that the United States intends to shift the cost of airspace monitoring for Iceland onto the other NATO countries." In a somewhat more constructive editorial March 20: "Even though the United States has long wanted the four fighters for different duties in other parts of the world, it has planes in Britain that could maintain regular surveillance flights to Iceland. Iceland could then take over Keflavik Airport and its operation, and the military base area would no longer be under U.S. control, nor would there be an `insignificant number of U.S. personnel' there, to quote U.S. representatives. The fighters that perform surveillance duties for Iceland could use the services at Keflavik Airport. There is every reason for the Icelandic Government to propose this alternative before negotiating the airspace monitoring that NATO now provides...." -- In a March 20 Frettabladid (largest circulation daily, center-left, sympathetic to opposition) article reporting Social Democratic Alliance Chair Ingibjorg Solrun Gisladottir's explanation of why she has appointed former Foreign Minister (and former Ambassador to the United States) Jon Baldvin Hannibalsson to head a defense working group: "It is time for Iceland to formulate an independent policy on defense and security that reflects national interests in a changing world. It is urgent that Iceland take the initiative in shaping this policy, given the turning point in defense and security that has now been reached with the U.S. Government's unilateral violation of the defense agreement." ------------- Looking Ahead ------------- ¶3. Some commentators are beginning to consider future force structure: -- Under the headline "Iceland should be offered air policing," Frettabladid March 18 quoted sources at NATO referring to air policing as effected in the Baltic States and Slovenia as a valid option for Iceland. Icelandic historian Valur Ingimundarson, who specializes in defense issues, points out that the F-15's rarely carry weapons but that the air policing jets do. -- Under the headline "Halldor suspected U.S. military would leave," Frettabladid reported March 19: "Halldor Asgrimsson says that he had suspected that the U.S. would withdraw their military force. He therefore stated at a Progressive Party meeting that Iceland would never force the U.S. military to stay in Iceland if they did not want to stay. Mr. Asgrimsson says: `I had expected it to come to pass during the present negotiations, but I had imagined it to be in a different fashion...Now we know and we can work our way forward from this point.' Mr. Asgrimsson could not say whether it will be an aluminum smelter or some other solution but he stated that the departure of the defense force could possibly justify special and temporary measures to ensure employment in the (Sudurnes) region." -- Morgunbladid added in a page-one report March 20: "A seven-person working group will be formed to look into the future of jobs in Sudurnes region. The group will most likely include four government representatives and three regional representatives. Yesterday municipal representatives from Reykjanesbaer and Sandgerdi met with Prime Minister Halldor Asgrimsson and Minister for Foreign Affairs Geir H. Haarde....Arni Sigfusson, Mayor of Reykjanesbaer, presented suggestions to the government on possible actions. He said that the suggestions had been well received by the ministers. `It will now become the project for this working group among others to develop these ideas further,' said Arni. `Common sense will guide us and the belief that we can solve these problems. It began well in this meeting here today, but the work is far from over.' -- In an editorial in the March 18 Bladid (centrist tabloid): "(T)here is a risk that people will lose sight of the task at hand and allow disputes over the past and unrealistic ideas about the future to dominate. There have been several examples of the latter, particularly the claim that Iceland should look to the EU in the area of security and defense. There is little time to spare, and it is unlikely that the EU will have the capability or the interest in guaranteeing security or performing monitoring duties in the North Atlantic. There is a job to be done, and it will require pragmatism, consultation, and businesslike work methods....(I)t is self-evident that Iceland can also "look in other directions," including NATO and friendly neighboring countries with regard to national defense, rescue operations at sea, and monitoring territorial waters. Icelandic political leaders' abilities and sense of responsibility will now be put to the test." ------------------------ Keeping a Sense of Humor ------------------------ ¶4. A poll in Frettabladid March 18 showed that 75 percent of Icelanders actually were not surprised by the U.S. announcement that the base would close. Reflecting this national shrugging of the shoulders, Frettabladid carried a "diary entry" from well-known left-of-center Icelandic film director, author, and commentator Thrainn Bertelsson March 18: "Heartbreak! "In (the film) `Punktur, punktur, komma, strik' is my favorite sentence in Icelandic films. A school class is interrupted by the tragic announcement that JFK has passed away. Overcome by grief the teacher says, `What is to become of Jackie and the children?' "Yesterday the third deputy Secretary of State was late for work one more time and was therefore tasked to call up Geir Haarde, who I am told is a very nice man and has recently returned from a reunion of the Haarde-family in Norway... anyway, the reason for the phone call was to ask Geir to let the Icelandic people know that the U.S. can't be bothered to keep running a very expensive base on `Midnesheidi' (note: the heath on which the base is located; end note), however bad the fishing or unemployment at Sudurnes might be. "Isafold (note: mythical female personification of Iceland; end note) is left to her own demise. The fiance has left her. She gets to keep her engagement ring though, because they say the defense agreement is still being honored. What is to become of `the Mountain Woman' and her children? Sad news indeed that proves once again that loving someone who doesn't love you back is not a good idea. The blow is lessened, however, since the nation was well prepared to see its protector, which lost all interest in Iceland years ago when the country stopped being a vital link in the U.S. chain of defense, leave. "And although the whole nation knew this was about to happen there are always those that seem to be clueless. In this case, the only clueless individuals were these two: the Prime Minister and the Minister for Foreign Affairs." VAN VOORST