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Cablegate: Iceland: Parliament Approves Resolution Condemning Guantanamo

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PP RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHROV RUEHSR
DE RUEHRK #0116/01 1721456
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 201456Z JUN 08
FM AMEMBASSY REYKJAVIK
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 3699
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
RUEKDIA/DIA WASHDC
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 REYKJAVIK 000116

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR EUR/NB, S/CT, L, DRL

E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/18/18
TAGS: PREL PGOV PTER PHUM KPAO IC
SUBJECT: ICELAND: PARLIAMENT APPROVES RESOLUTION CONDEMNING GUANTANAMO

REF: SECTO 003 DTG 070102Z JUN 08

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

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: Iceland's parliament unanimously passed a
non-binding resolution on May 30 calling for the closure of the U.S.
detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. The resolution further called
for the Government of Iceland to convey that message to the U.S.
government; Iceland's Foreign Minister did so later that day during
her meeting with visiting Secretary of State Rice. Given the timing,
news of the resolution and the issue of Guantanamo Bay dominated the
press coverage of the Secretary's visit. Some media - implicitly
criticizing the FM -- have since speculated that the resolution and
its timing irritated the U.S. enough to scuttle hopes of U.S. support
for Iceland's UN Security Council bid. END SUMMARY.

2. (U) In the early morning hours of May 30, the Althingi (Icelandic
Parliament) unanimously voted in favor of a non-binding resolution
which calls for the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility.
The resolution cites the "inhumane treatment of prisoners" as a
justification to close the facility. The GOI is also charged with
communicating the position of the Althingi to U.S. authorities,
according to the resolution. (Full resolution text para 8) All
political parties represented in the Althingi supported the
resolution, which led to a vote of 52 in favor, zero opposing, and 11
not present. Nine parliamentarians sponsored the bill, all of whom
belong to the Left-Green Party of Iceland. The Althingi Foreign
Affairs Committee approved the resolution on May 28, sending the
resolution to a full floor vote the following day.

3. (C) Although the resolution passed on the eve of Secretary Rice's
visit, this timing seemed more a function of the legislative calendar
than an effort to send a political message. The resolution was
originally introduced in February and had been lingering in the
Althingi since then, until the legislature's last-week sprint to
finish its work before the summer recess beginning on May 30.
However, the timing ensured that Guantanamo Bay would be a central
issue in coverage of the visit. (Comment: Ministry contacts have
confirmed to post that they failed to realize how much the issue
would overwhelm other reporting on the visit and as such had not
tried to intervene in the legislative calendar. End Comment.) Press
and blog speculation about whether or not Foreign Minister Ingibjorg
Solrun Gisladottir would present the Secretary with a copy of the
resolution began immediately after the Foreign Affairs Committee vote
on May 28. That said, the final text incorporated several amendments
softening the language to remove a description of the Guantanamo
facility's operations as "illegal" and eliminating a call for the
Icelandic Government to work in international fora towards the
facility's closure.

4. (U) FM Gisladottir raised Guantanamo with Secretary Rice during
their May 30 meeting and passed a copy of the resolution to the
Secretary (reftel). In her comments to the press afterwards, FM
Gisladottir confirmed that she did indeed bring up concerns about
Guantanamo while meeting with the Secretary. When asked about the
resolution by the press, Secretary Rice stated that she strongly
objected to the notion that there are human rights violations
occurring at Guantanamo Bay. The Secretary also noted that returning
inmates to their country of origin is quite complicated. She added
that there have been instances of former detainees engaging in
attacks on US forces and innocent civilians. Finally, Secretary Rice
suggested that members of the Althingi read the OSCE Parliamentary
Committee report on Guantanamo Bay. (Full press conference
transcript: http://www.state.gov/secretary/rm/2008/05/105 447.htm)

5. (SBU) As expected, Icelandic press coverage of the Secretary's
visit was heavily focused on the Guantanamo Bay resolution. Most
print articles mentioned that FM Gisladottir provided Secretary Rice
with a copy of the resolution; most also noted the Secretary's
rebuttal of the charge of human rights abuses at Guantanamo Bay. In
response, a June 2 editorial in daily paper of record Morgunbladid
entitled, "Condescending Rice," stated that Secretary Rice had a
condescending attitude toward the Althingi's resolution.

6. (C) More provocatively, a June 9 editorial comment in
Morgunbladid claimed that Secretary Rice was angry and caught off
guard by the resolution. The article went on to say that the
relationship between the Secretary and the Foreign Minister was
greatly damaged due to this resolution, and speculated that as a
result the U.S. might not support Iceland in elections to the UN
Security Council this fall. Embassy protested to Morgunbladid and
Ambassador immediately communicated to the Ministry of Foreign
Affairs (MFA) and other political actors that this story was false
and in no way sourced from USG participants in the meeting.
Separately, the MFA's Counsellor for Human Rights issues told Pol
Chief that the resolution was "silly" and did not offer a useful
contribution to the debate about how international law should handle
the detainees or similar cases. This tendency to focus on the
emotional principle of closing Guantanamo rather than the legal issue

REYKJAVIK 00000116 002 OF 002


of the detainees' cases was reinforced in the scant local coverage
(mostly translated wire reports) of the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling
on June 12 in Boumedine v. Bush.

7. (C) COMMENT: Detainees at Guantanamo continue to be a hot topic
here, and as elsewhere in Europe there is a broad consensus that the
detention facility should be closed, with no critical examination of
how the law should best deal with the detainees' cases. In this
climate the Althingi's unanimous vote on the resolution was nearly
inevitable. However, as the June 9 editorial comment indicates, all
news is local, and some have seized upon the issue as a chance to
criticize the MFA for allegedly sloppy handling of Iceland's foreign
affairs. We have since seized every opportunity to both point out
that the Secretary's conversation with FM Gisladottir was simply a
frank talk between allies as well as encourage a sincere discussion
of the complex legal principles involved. END COMMENT.

8. (U) Text of Althingi resolution: The Althingi condemns the
inhumane treatment of prisoners at the US detention camp at
Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, urges that the camp be closed and charges the
Government of Iceland to communicate this position to the US
authorities.

End text.

van Voorst

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