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Cablegate: Iceland's Bid for the Un Security Council

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E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/11/2018
TAGS: PREL UNSC UN AU TU IC
SUBJECT: Iceland's Bid for the UN Security Council

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

1. (C/NF) Summary: Iceland's bid for one of two available WEOG
seats on the UN Security Council in 2009-10 is rapidly drawing to a
close. The campaign, hamstrung by a slow start and tepid support at
home, has found its legs over the last year under the enthusiastic
direction of Foreign Minister Gisladottir. Iceland has campaigned on
a strategy of "every vote counts," but in recent months has taken
particular aim at competitor Austria. As a Security Council member,
Iceland would be generally supportive of U.S. priorities, though
particular engagement would be necessary on questions of armed
intervention. The small size of Iceland's foreign service and lack
of depth on many issues would force Iceland to look often to its
friends and neighbors for advice. Lobbying in other Nordic capitals
will be of key importance should Iceland win a UNSC seat. End
Summary.

Getting a slow start at home and abroad
---------------------------------------
2. (C) Iceland is one of three candidates for two Western European
and Other Group (WEOG) seats on the UN Security Council in 2009-10,
running against Turkey and Austria. Iceland's bid for a Security
Council seat did not begin to properly get organized until late 2006
under then-Foreign Minister Valgerdur Sverrisdottir. Previous FMs --
particularly David Oddsson from 2004-2005 -- did little to win
support at home or get organized overseas for the effort. Should
Iceland fail to win a seat, many supporters of the bid will point the
finger at Oddsson and the Independence Party as a whole.

3. (C) Reflecting the ambivalence inside the government, the
Icelandic public has also split on the issue. The campaign's cost
(roughly $3.33 million from 2001 to 2007, with an additional $800,000
budgeted through October 2008) is an easy target for those who think
Iceland should have a less activist foreign policy as well as critics
of government spending, particularly on the left end of the spectrum.
However, even some close to the Prime Minister's Independence Party
and in favor of a robust foreign policy have told PolOff that they
are dubious that Iceland can effectively carry out the
responsibilities of a UNSC member. Under current FM Ingibjorg Solrun
Gisladottir, who has made winning a UNSC seat a priority, polls show
support for Iceland's candidacy is only 46 percent, with 36 percent
against.

Every vote counts...but especially if we take them from Austria
-------------------------------------------
4. (C) Valgerdur Sverrisdottir made the campaign more of a priority
than her predecessors during her 2006-2007 tenure as Foreign
Minister, but it still gained little traction. Foreign Minister
Ingibjorg Solrun Gisladottir took several bold moves immediately
after her arrival in May 2007 at the ministry. Pledging to make the
UNSC campaign simultaneously cheaper and more effective, Gisladottir
appointed a special envoy to head the effort and allowed her to
assemble a dedicated team. FM Gisladottir also began a series of
high-visibility trips to regions outside of the usual
Nordics-U.S.-Europe circuit: since May 2007, she has gone to the
Middle East five times, and Africa three times, as well as making
visits to the Caribbean and Afghanistan.

5. (C/NF) Senior MFA officials as well as working-level officers in
the UNSC campaign office have told post that in addition to the FM's
travel, the ministry as a whole is racking up frequent-flyer miles.
Rather than targeting strategic countries to influence a whole
regional bloc, the Icelandic approach has been one of stumping for
each and every vote -- a huge strain on a foreign service of only 205
people worldwide. In a July 2 meeting with Ambassador, Permanent
Secretary Gretar Mar Sigurdsson allowed that the campaign "has been
bloody hard for us," as he described having to spend the better part
of a week on a Pacific islands trip to counter Micronesia's
declaration of support for Austria.

6. (C/NF) Austria is Iceland's main target in the campaign. Though
Ministry officials declined to confirm this directly, the tone and
content of MFA pitches to Ambassador and visiting USG officials
indicate that they believe Turkey is a sure winner, but Austria's
dubious economic and energy ties to Iran and Russia may create an
opening for Iceland. Iran's nuclear efforts are likely to be the
most significant challenge to the UNSC in 2009-2010, MFA PermSec
Sigurdsson has argued to Ambassador and visiting U.S. officials, and
Iceland has neither the problematic history of dealings with Iran nor
the economic exposure that Austria does. Beyond substantive
concerns, Icelandic officials have also accused Austria of unfairly
leveraging Vienna's role as host to multiple UN agencies, and were
incensed by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon's comments in May 2008
apparently supporting Austria's bid -- in their eyes, another sign of
shady campaigning by Austria.

7. (C/NF) The "every vote counts" perspective has also influenced
Icelandic performance on other foreign policy issues over the last
year. Increased ties to the Middle East have translated into
contacts with both Syria and Iran. Similarly, Iceland has appeared
reluctant to annoy Russia on recognition of Kosovo and the conflict
with Georgia. Though in both cases Iceland eventually lined up with
USG views -- recognizing Kosovo within a couple of weeks of
independence and eventually calling in the Russian Ambassador here
regarding events in Georgia -- there were some questions as to
whether the UNSC bid made the MFA more gun-shy than it might
otherwise have been.

What would UNSC member Iceland do?
----------------------------------
8. (C/NF) Iceland has made a principled case for a UNSC seat based
on its impeccable democratic credentials, support for the UN system,
and the idea that all UN member states should have the chance to sit
on the Security Council. What it has not done is present a concrete
picture of what kind of Security Council member (and chair) it would
be. Post's analysis is that Iceland would be generally in agreement
with USG priorities. Some disagreements do exist, and the FM's
discomfort with the use of military force would require strong
engagement on questions of intervention. Iceland's initiatives would
closely mirror the interests of FM Gisladottir: Iceland would work
for progress on the empowerment and security of women, the broader
concept of human security, and possibly even environmental security
concerns.

9. (C/NF) In approaches to USG officials, Iceland has consistently
appealed to the history of our bilateral relationship and our common
membership in NATO. Post believes that our close defense ties and
the U.S. treaty obligations as Iceland's first defender in war --
notwithstanding the withdrawal of U.S. military forces from Iceland
in September 2006 -- and Iceland's voting record at the UN would
translate into a commonality of views on most issues. We have
consistently been on the same side of human rights issues in the UNGA
Third Committee and the UN Human Rights Council, and Iceland has been
a staunch supporter of U.S. efforts on UNSCR 1820 on the security of
women in conflic and the UNGA declaration on Prisoners of
Conscince.

10. (C/NF) Areas of disagreement do exist which may be exacerbated
by Iceland's lack of amilitary and the Foreign Minister's personal
discmfort with the use of force. Iceland shares a broad European
skepticism on USG policy towards Cuba, and has not voted our way on
the Cuba embargo resolution. Similarly, Iceland has followed the
Nordic line on anti-Israel resolutions in recent years. On Iraq, the
previous Icelandic government pledged its political support to the
invasion of Iraq in 2003 and later sent personnel in support of
explosive ordnance disposal and the NATO Training Mission-Iraq.
However, FM Gisladottir campaigned in the 2007 elections on a pledge
of "removing Iceland's name" from the Coalition of the Willing and
called back the lone Icelander at NTM-I. Beyond simple opposition to
the Iraq war, FM Gisladottir's views are colored by the fact that
Iceland has no military, which she thinks gives Iceland a unique
moral role, as an honest broker and example, in world affairs. This
does not translate into a complete opposition to armed intervention
-- under Gisladottir, the MFA has maintained financial and logistical
support for NATO operations in Afghanistan -- but it means that
Iceland will need to be fully convinced that diplomatic efforts have
run their course.

11. (C/NF) A final complication is the tiny size of Iceland's
foreign service, which greatly limits both the information at hand as
well as the ability to process that information. The International
Organizations Department Head noted wryly to PolOff that until now,
Iceland had the luxury of deciding which issues to follow, but that
this will come to a swift end in October should Iceland be voted in.
The MFA's Security Council campaign office has carefully examined the
UNSC experience of Costa Rica, another comparatively small state
without an army. Much of the expense of the UNSC campaign stems from
the expansion of the permanent mission in New York; current plans are
to double the size of the mission to 20 diplomats should Iceland win
election. Given that this is nearly 10 percent of Iceland's total
diplomatic corps, the entire personnel transfer season for this year
is on hold pending the vote results.

12. (C/NF) In practical terms, this means the Icelanders will look
more than usual to their Nordic colleagues for background and advice
on key issues. A division of labor across issues already exists,
according to MFA contacts and the Norwegian Embassy in Reykjavik, and
the Norwegians are expecting to be asked for quite a bit more help.
This stems both from the traditionally close relationship between the
two countries as well as the warm ties between FMs Gisladottir and
Stoere. Though Iceland has formally abandoned a previous proposal to
dual-accredit other Nordic diplomats at the UN, Nordic ties and
collaboration in New York and capitals will be very close if Iceland
wins its bid. For the USG, this will mean that engagement in other
Nordic capitals will take on new significance in influencing
Iceland's position.

13. (C/NF) Comment: Despite some policy differences and the
challenges of working with such a short-staffed diplomatic corps,
Post is confident that Iceland would work closely and productively
with us on the Security Council. Iceland is a member of NATO with
impeccable diplomatic credentials, and its default worldview is
generally in line with U.S. values and priorities.

VAN VOORST

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