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Cablegate: Charge's Meeting with Finnish Prime Minister

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.



E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/02/2012


Classified By: CDA Amy Hyatt for Reasons 1.5 (b) and (d).

1. (S) Summary: Prime Minister Vanhanen and Charge reviewed
several issues of interest to the U.S. and Finland Nov. 25.
Vanhanen raised the issue of an alleged CIA flight through
Finland about which the GOF has faced heavy political and
press criticism. He also discussed the current presidential
campaign and his relationship with President Halonen; the
parliamentary elections of 2007; trade with China; his hopes
for Finland's upcoming EU presidency; the stalled crisis
management legislation; and his perceptions of Finnish-US
relations and of the U.S. image in Europe. Charge welcomed
the PM's effort to address openly the range of issues that
affect our bilateral relationship and offered
continued U.S. support and cooperation in areas of shared
End Summary.

2. (SBU) Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen and Charge met Nov. 25
for 90 minutes at Vanhanen's official residence, at the PM's
request. Vanhanen characterized the meeting as informal and
explained that he makes a habit of reviewing bilateral issues
with the U.S. chief of mission "every couple of months or so"
-- a practice he only engages in with the U.S., given the great
importance he personally attaches to the relationship. The
conversation covered several bilateral and regional issues of
concern to both countries. Vanhanen also spoke candidly and at
length about the Parliament's rejection of his government's
crisis management operation (CMO) defense bill (septel).

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3. (S) Vanhanen raised the issue of an alleged CIA flight that
supposedly landed in Helsinki on May 16, 2003 and then proceeded
to Stockholm (reftel A). Vanhanen noted that the issue has
generated significant, embarrassing coverage in the Finnish
press and that opposition politicians have attacked the GOF and
demanded clarification. He said that initially the Finnish MOD
could find no record of having approved the flight -- an
unfortunate development that prompted even greater criticism and
allegations that the U.S. was using Finnish airspace illegally.
However, he noted with some relief, the MOD subsequently found
the authorization and would so inform the press. Vanhanen did
not pressure the Charge for information, but made it clear that
any information we can eventually provide would be helpful. In
accordance with existing guidance, Charge responded that the
Embassy can confirm or deny nothing on this issue, but that
we would seek to be helpful when and if information became

4. (SBU) Vanhanen confirmed what many have observed about
Finland's presidential campaign: that there really are few
significant policy differences among the major party
He acknowledged that Conservative Party (CON) candidate Sauli
Niinisto has sought to distance himself from Vanhanen on
security policy, and has scored some political points through
that effort. However, the PM added, Niinisto's view may indicate
that he is either getting bad campaign advice or "just doesn't
understand" the GOF's position on security policy. Vanhanen
also said that he and President Halonen differ on tax policy,
with the President generally favoring higher rates.

5. (SBU) Concerning Halonen, Vanhanen told Charge he is proud
of the fact that Finns from across the political spectrum have
applauded the outstanding working relationship between the
two of them. Their cooperation has resulted in Vanhanen's
attaining the highest public approval rating ever for a
Finnish prime minister (currently 55 percent), despite a
recent drop as a result of the presidential campaign.
Vanhanen cited his own negotiation and compromise skills as
crucial in dealing effectively with a strong president who
has been forceful about pushing the limits of her own
constitutional mandates. Acknowledging that his good role
as prime minister has, in fact, probably hurt his ability to
campaign aggressively as a presidential candidate, Vanhanen
said, "It is more important to run a government well than
to score points in an election." (Vanhanen has, in fact,
fallen to third behind Halonen and Niinisto in recent polls.)
Nevertheless, looking forward to next year's parliamentary
election, the PM said that voters will look back and value
his low profile and strong management skills, and reward
his Center Party (CEN) accordingly.

6. (SBU) The PM briefly touched on several other issues.
Regarding Finland's growing trade with China and his recent
visit there, Vanhanen said that "keeping a balance" is
crucial to Finnish interests. The lure of inexpensive
Chinese exports is attractive to any nation's consumers,
he suggested, but the GOF and the Finnish private sector
remain convinced that Finland is capable of selling high
tech and other products to China in almost equal measure
to what it imports. He hinted that, over the long term,
he would probably favor lifting the China arms embargo, but
emphasized that he fully understands how important this issue
is to the USG and therefore does not intend to act on it now
or during the Finnish EU presidency. Indeed, he said,
Finland has an aggressive agenda for its EU presidency and
hopes for no natural disasters or other crises "on
Finland's watch." Nevertheless, the GOF is actively
preparing for any eventuality. As part of its
preparations, Vanhanen hopes to consult closely with all
major non-Eu heads of government (US, Russia, China, etc.)
in an effort to incorporate their views and priorities, to
the extent possible,
in the Presidency's agenda and to establish a working
relationship that can be tapped in the event of future
crises. Recognizing this as a clear hint that Vanhanen
would like to meet President Bush sometime before Finland
assumes the EU presidency in July, Charge reminded the PM
that we expected no more than one presidential meeting in
2006 for Finland and would leave it up to Finland to
decide whether its PM or the President would participate.

7. (S) This one-on-one meeting with the Prime Minister
demonstrates the importance the GOF places on maintaining a
meaningful dialogue with the US. In general, he was
forthcoming on political and strategic issues; realistic
and honest about his campaign prospects; and very positive
about the overall tone and substance of the US-Finnish
bilateral relationship. On the rendition flight issue,
which has become quite sensitive for the Vanhanen government
as well, he made clear that he was raising it not to
challenge us but rather in hopes of resolving it in a manner
that limits damage for both sides.

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