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Cablegate: Scenesetter for the Secretary's Meeting with Icelandic

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FROM AMBASSADOR VAN VOORST

E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/02/2017
TAGS: PREL MARR PGOV PINR NATO KWMN IC
SUBJECT: Scenesetter for the Secretary's meeting with Icelandic
Foreign Minister Gisladottir

Classified By: Amb. Carol van Voorst for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).

1. (C/NF) Icelandic Foreign Minister Ingibjorg Solrun Gisladottir's
visit to Washington April 10-12 will be her first visit with a
bilateral agenda. Since her Social Democratic Alliance party came
into government last June, she has quickly forged a solid
relationship with her center-right coalition partner Prime Minister
Haarde (whom you met in Washington in 2006) and has assumed full
control over the foreign affairs and defense brief. She initially
underestimated the demands of the job; Gisladottir came in with
expectations of being able to take lengthy vacations in the Nordic
tradition and dividing her time equally between statecraft and
domestic party leadership. The latter task has been roughly shoved
aside in the last six months as the FM has been constantly on the
road, largely in support of Iceland's UN Security Council bid.
Mastering the defense and security issues in her portfolio (Iceland
has neither a military nor a separate Ministry of Defense) has also
been a challenge, though one that Gisladottir has tackled well.

Still an activist, learning statesmanship
-----------------------------------------

2. (C/NF) In person, Gisladottir's habitual body language is closed
and stern; she often spends the first part of a meeting with arms
crossed and her jaw tight. This does not necessarily mean she
disagrees, but warmth takes a while to percolate through and her
interlocutors may not learn that their message was taken on board
until later. Our experience over the last year is that she has firm
views, but listens closely and is willing to change her mind.

3. (C) Gisladottir is a shrewd politician with an activist streak,
in the Nordic social democratic mold. She keeps in close touch with
Norwegian FM Store. On foreign policy issues, she tends to bend to
public opinion rather than set the tone herself. As a socialist in a
party with a strong pacifist wing, Gisladottir is uncomfortable with
the appearance or use of force and struggles with the need to blend
Icelandic civilian expertise into military (i.e., NATO) peacekeeping
operations. She has forcefully expressed her anger over the issue of
alleged CIA rendition flights through Iceland. At the same time, her
skill in asserting her independence in foreign policy means that
under her watch, Iceland passed its first-ever defense budget and is
reforming its defense sector with barely a whisper of controversy.
Formerly taboo subjects like the establishment of an intelligence
analysis unit have been folded into this move with nothing resembling
the hue and cry surrounding the previous coalition government's
attempt to do so. Her credibility on the renditions issue meant she
was able to immediately squash a recent opposition call for a
parliamentary inquiry.

Meeting topics
--------------

4. (C) NATO/Afghanistan: On Afghanistan, the FM will be eager to
share her impressions from her March 15-17 trip to Kabul and
Meymaneh. Iceland has 14 civilian peacekeepers deployed with NATO
and is developing a three-year plan for future involvement. We
strongly encouraged this first Icelandic cabinet-level trip to
Afghanistan, which has pumped sorely needed information into the
contentious debate here about why Iceland should care about
Afghanistan. Gisladottir is interested in USG views on how Iceland
can best contribute, but Ministry sources tell us that the emphasis
is firmly planted in civilian tasks that look much like traditional
development aid. We were disappointed last April when Gisladottir's
predecessor pulled Iceland's mobile liaison team out of PRT
Chaghcharan, and have lobbied her without success to renew that
contribution. We should push the Icelanders to greatly step up their
support for police training, which may also allow them to blend in
elements relating to the status of women (a heartfelt personal
concern of Gisladottir's).

5. (C) The High North: In Bucharest, Gisladottir and PM Haarde will
announce Iceland's sponsorship of a NATO conference on security in
the High North in January 2009. Iceland has in ever-stronger terms
called for increased Alliance focus on its North Atlantic
neighborhood. Pointing to the implications of the melting Arctic ice
for maritime security and resources exploitation, Gisladottir will
probably mention Iceland's acute awareness of a more assertive and
visible Russia in the North Atlantic. U.S. exercises and ship visits
have helped to ease these concerns, and NATO's new air policing
mission here beginning this April (with the French in one of their
first NATO common defense tasks since de Gaulle; a U.S. rotation is
slated for August 2008) has been warmly welcomed. Gisladottir and
her government now feel it is time that NATO think seriously about
conventional security concerns in this part of the world, building on
previous discussions about climate change and shipping security.

6. (SBU) Women and Peace: Gisladottir founded Iceland's Women's
List political party in the 1980s, and though that particular
feminist group has been subsumed in her Social Democratic Alliance
party, the FM still places immense importance on gender issues. Her
ministry just produced Iceland's action plan for implementing UNSCR
1325 on the role of women in peacebuilding and security, and
Gisladottir will want to raise this as an entree to the topic of the
International Women's Commission for a Just and Sustainable
Palestinian-Israeli Peace. Gisladottir believes passionately that
women have a special contribution to make to sustainable peace, and
reportedly was appalled by the conditions endured by women in
Afghanistan.

7. (C/NF) UN Security Council Campaign: Though unlikely to press
hard on Iceland's UNSC bid, Gisladottir will undoubtedly remind us
that Iceland would appreciate U.S. support for a seat in 2009-10.
The UNSC campaign is coloring in ever-stronger hues the conduct of
Iceland's foreign policy; Gisladottir has made two trips to African
Union meetings in the last year and just returned from a Caribbean
visit, both regions not routinely toured by her predecessors. More
significantly, there are signs that Iceland delayed its recognition
of Kosovo last month to try to avoid antagonizing Russia.
Gisladottir has taken harsh criticism within her own party for her
initially weak statements on the situation in Tibet, which many saw
as a sop to the Chinese. Similarly, the MFA concedes that a campaign
trip to Iran last month by Gisladottir's deputy was an embarrassing
mistake. The learning curve for both the Minister and her MFA has
been steep, and Iceland is getting a thorough introduction to the
rough-and-tumble world they will be entering should they win a seat
this fall.

8. (C) Other issues: Whaling continues to be an irritant as there
are rumblings that Iceland may allow commercial whaling again this
year. We should take the opportunity to point out that this step
would not win them many votes in the Security Council race.
Iceland's economy is showing some cracks in the "northern miracle"
facade, as tightening world credit markets put the squeeze on the
country's highly leveraged banking sector. In more positive news,
Gisladottir may note our flourishing bilateral cooperation on clean
energy, though she mostly leaves this field to others such as
President Grimsson and the Minister of Industry.


van Voorst
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