Viewing cable 09REYKJAVIK204, OBSERVATIONS FROM A DANISH AMBASSADOR'S THREE
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|09REYKJAVIK204||2009-11-17 13:01||2011-01-13 05:05||CONFIDENTIAL||Embassy Reykjavik|
VZCZCXRO3671 RR RUEHBC RUEHDE RUEHDIR RUEHKUK RUEHTRO DE RUEHRK #0204/01 3211314 ZNY CCCCC ZZH R 171314Z NOV 09 FM AMEMBASSY REYKJAVIK TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 4219 INFO RUCNIRA/IRAN COLLECTIVE RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 REYKJAVIK 000204 SIPDIS E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/16/2019 TAGS: PGOV PREL PHUM IR IC SUBJECT: OBSERVATIONS FROM A DANISH AMBASSADOR'S THREE YEARS IN TEHRAN REYKJAVIK 00000204 001.2 OF 002 Classified By: CDA SAM WATSON FOR REASONS 1.4 (B) AND (D) ¶1. (C) Summary and introduction. Charge d'Affaires (CDA) met November 13 with Soren Haslund, the newly arrived Danish Ambassador to Iceland, to discuss his time spent in Iran. Haslund served as the Danish Ambassador in Tehran for three years, arriving in 2006 and departing the country on July 26, ¶2009. He was pleased to share his insight with CDA regarding the political, human rights and infrastructure situation in Iran. End summary and introduction. Political Structure -------------------- ¶2. (C) In a conversation with CDA on November 13, Danish Ambassador Soren Haslund said that the political structure in Iran is composed of an incredibly small number of elites, which includes not just Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but also opposition leader Mir-Hossein Mousavi. There is, Haslund warned, a tendency by the West to attribute huge differences to those in power and those in the opposition when, in fact, they are all part of the same small group. There is no true opposition faction in Iran, he opined, really only "nuances of black" exist. ¶3. (C) Haslund termed the relationship between Khamenei and Ahmadinejad one of "mutual hostages." That is, they have become almost symbiotically dependent on one another. Haslund felt that Khamenei had essentially thrown his lot in entirely with Ahmadinejad and the veterans of the Iran-Iraq war. This, he suggested, signified something of a change on the part of the Supreme Leader who previously tried to remain above the fray and to balance the interests of both those who served in the Iran-Iraq war and also the old guard who could trace their roots back to the revolution of 1979. ¶4. (C) Khamenei, according to Haslund, has an elaborate structure of civil servants around him. These people, he continued, are not clerics but rather highly trained technocrats that serve almost as a parallel structure to government. They are organized into what Haslund described as departments but the entire structure, he said, was almost clan like. These technocrats, whom he estimated numbered more than 1,000, insulate the spiritual leader. Very few diplomats were granted meetings with Khamenei. Haslund never obtained a meeting with the Supreme Leader, though he did meet with the President on several occasions along with other diplomats. ¶5. (C) The entire government structure, according to Haslund, is corrupt. This includes both the official government as well as the informal structure that surrounds Khamenei. There is, he said, a great deal of nepotism but that is unsurprising considering the large role that clans play in society. There is also "real" corruption. Haslund cited the example of how significant profits from state imports and exports are siphoned off into the religious foundations called Bonyads. This process, he said, is legal but no one knows what happens to this money once it is received by the Bonyads. He said that he had heard, anecdotally, that these religious foundations could possess holdings worth as much as nine billion U.S. dollars. Iran's Place in the World -------------------------- ¶6. (C) According to Haslund, Iranians consider themselves religiously, linguistically and ethnically superior to their neighbors. This Persian arrogance, he argued, plays a large role in Iran's foreign policy. Iran tends to use proxies and money to accomplish its regional goals, he said, and would prefer not to interact with its neighbors face-to-face. Syria, he had heard, was receiving one billion dollars to act as just such a proxy for Iran in what he termed a marriage of convenience between the two countries. Haslund suggested that Turkey, as a secular country, might potentially serve as a regional ally for Iran. Somewhat surprisingly, he also suggested that Israel could eventually become a regional ally. The Iranians, he said, have no particular hatred for Israel and the approximately 30,000 Jews that live in the country are treated well. ¶7. (C) Haslund also said that most of the Iranians he met viewed America as the most natural candidate to become a long-term global ally. For historical reasons, he suggested, Iran has a deep mistrust of the British and Russians. America, however, is viewed in a different light. The Iranians, he joked, have noticed who is responsible for deposing of Sadam Hussein in Iraq and the Taliban in Afghanistan. It does not hurt the United States' reputation in Iran, he said, to be responsible for having removed two of the country's greatest enemies. REYKJAVIK 00000204 002.2 OF 002 Human Rights ------------- ¶8. (C) The human rights situation in Iran, according to Haslund, is deplorable. The government is "tightening the screws on people" and is doing so with impunity. He said that sometimes human rights dissidents would be involved in suspicious "accidents" or "disappear." More often, however, abuses were carried out openly. The government makes a point of letting everyone know what it is doing and the people are, understandably, cautious and scared. Haslund said that when he met with dissidents he never did so at the Danish Embassy. He would sometimes visit them in their homes but, more often than not, his wife would pick them up in her personal vehicle and transport them to the Ambassador's residence for a meeting. He said that dissidents were often willing to meet because they believed that increased exposure would actually make them safer. He met Nobel Prize winner Shriia Ebadi frequently. Infrastructure --------------- ¶9. (C) Haslund said that there were no noticeable effects of the trade embargo on Iranian infrastructure, which he described as excellent and up to Western standards. There is the occasional loss of electricity in Tehran but this only occurred when there was too little rain and was indicative of the country's limited hydroelectric capabilities rather than the embargo. Haslund noted that several of the airline's passenger jets were outdated but seemed to be holding up in part because of recent arrival of spare parts. He said that he flew Boeing 747s, Air Buses, and Tupolevs while he was there. Biographical Information ------------------------- ¶10. (C) Haslund has previously served as Denmark's Ambassador to Mexico as well as Chief of Protocol for nine years in Copenhagen. He also served at the United Nations and in Washington. Haslund speaks fondly of his year as an undergraduate at Hamilton College in New York. WATSON