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Cablegate: Iceland: Visit of Uss Wasp Demonstrates "Robust And

VZCZCXRO1843
PP RUEHC
DE RUEHRK #0401/01 2991754
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 261754Z OCT 06 ZDK EACTC SVC #0128
FM AMEMBASSY REYKJAVIK
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 3030
INFO RHMFIUU/COMUSNAVEUR NAPLES IT PRIORITY
RHBVEPB/USS WASP
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC
RHMFISS/HQ USEUCOM VAIHINGEN GE 0037
RUEHZG/NATO EU COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 REYKJAVIK 000401

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

SIPDIS

SECDEF FOR OSD/P (KELSO, HURSCH)
OSLO FOR DATT

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: MOPS PREL MARR KPAO OPRC NATO IC
SUBJECT: Iceland: Visit of USS Wasp Demonstrates "Robust and
Visible" U.S. Commitment to Iceland's Defense

Refs: A) Reykjavik 369 (NOTAL)
B) Reykjavik 364 (NOTAL)
C) Reykjavik 359 (NOTAL)
D) Reykjavik 357 (NOTAL)

1. (SBU) Summary: The October 12-17 port visit of the
USS Wasp provided a visible demonstration of USG intent to honor its
defense commitment to Iceland following the September closure of
Naval Air Station Keflavik (NASKEF). The Prime Minister, Foreign
Minister, and Justice Minister - just back from the Washington
signing of a new Joint Understanding on future security arrangements
- praised the timeliness and substance of the visit, and host
government engagement was enthusiastic and professional.

2. (SBU) Local media coverage highlighted the Wasp's humanitarian
relief capabilities and provided striking coverage of joint training
by the Wasp's helicopter detachment and Icelandic Police and Coast
Guard. The press also ran human interest stories on the lives of
sailors and on Wasp's community outreach projects. The public
welcomed sailors warmly, and there were no reports of liberty
incidents. The visit undercut local skepticism over U.S. intent and
capability to uphold its defense commitment, while strengthening
Icelandic security forces and interagency planning - as well each
side's familiarity with the other's procedures - in preparation for
future exercises and contingencies. End summary.

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3. (U) The USS Wasp (LHD-1), with an embarked crew of roughly 1300
sailors, visited Reykjavik October 12-17, arriving twelve days after
the closure of Naval Air Station Keflavik (NASKEF) and one day after
Secretary Rice joined Icelandic Prime Minister Haarde and Foreign

SIPDIS
Minister Sverrisdottir in signing a "Joint Understanding" on
modernizing U.S.-Iceland defense and security relations.

4. (U) With support from USDAO Oslo and NAVEUR and an enthusiastic
host government, Embassy and USS Wasp - the first U.S. warship to
visit Iceland since 2002 - arranged for heavy media and political
outreach in connection with the event, including:

-- a media embark by MH-53 helicopter to cover the vessel's arrival,
which became a lead story in all major media ("The Yankees Are
Back!");

-- ship tours and a reception for GOI officials and targeted groups
(with a focus on students and rising political leaders) emphasizing
the LHD's secondary role in humanitarian relief operations;

-- community relations projects (visits to the children's wing of
the national hospital and a home for the elderly by sailors and the
6th Fleet Jazz Ensemble, respectively, and sports matches with local
notables); and

-- a joint Icelandic National Police "Viking Squad"/Icelandic Coast
Guard (ICG) counterterrorism training event supported by the Wasp's
helicopter detachment. The most memorable TV image was of Icelandic
Police special forces and Coast Guard EOD specialists coming off an
MH-53 to assault a suspected terrorist hideout. (Several Icelanders
have commented to embassy officers that they never knew their police
had this capability.)

5. (U) Media coverage was quite positive overall, with print media
offering extensive photo spreads and broadcast media enjoying the
opportunity for compelling video. The media offered no editorial
reservations to counter the U.S. message that the visit demonstrated
the sincerity and robustness of American commitment to Iceland's
defense. (Post is sending media summaries and video files to Wasp
and NAVEUR via email.)

6. (SBU) PM Geir Haarde, Foreign Minister Valgerdur Sverrisdottir,
and Justice Minister Bjorn Bjarnason all toured the Wasp and
expressed enthusiasm for the visit and for the briefings they
received on the Wasp's amphibious assault and humanitarian
assistance capabilities. In public comments, the PM and FM made an
explicit link between the Joint Understanding and the ship visit,
noting that the multi-role Wasp and her crew exemplified the mobile,
flexible over-the-horizon forces that the U.S. had said could defend
Iceland in a crisis.

7. (SBU) Officials from the Defense Department of the Ministry for
Foreign Affairs, the ICG, and other agencies noted their
appreciation to embassy officers, with one GOI official commenting
that the visit made it easier for him to be "taken seriously" when
he argued the benefits of U.S.-Iceland security cooperation.


REYKJAVIK 00000401 002.4 OF 002


8. (SBU) Opposition parties largely ignored the visit. The youth
wing of the Left-Green party, which has a stated policy of pacifism,
declined a tour invitation and instead issued a public statement
decrying the visit. They were echoed by the Alliance of Military
Base Opponents, which castigated the Wasp's counterterrorism
training with the Icelandic Police and ICG as contributing to the
"militarization" of the security forces. The only public
demonstration came in the form of four protestors who stood gamely
in the rain pierside for an hour on 15 October, leaving as soon as
their TV interviews were done.

9. (U) The public welcomed sailors warmly and there were no reports
of liberty incidents. The only sour note: even with tour, store,
and restaurant discounts arranged by the Embassy and local
authorities, Iceland is an expensive liberty port. At Ambassador's
direction, post is already engaging with Icelandic authorities to
explore means of making the next ship visit easier on sailors'
wallets.

10. (SBU) Comment: In the wake of the NASKEF closure decision, the
leading opposition party and some press commentators (including some
who had supported the presence of NASKEF) spoke of abrogating the
1951 U.S.-Iceland Defense Agreement, questioning American intent and
capability to come to the defense of Iceland in a crisis. The
Wasp's visit undercut those skeptics and confounded anti-NATO
elements who had seen the NASKEF closure as a step on the road to
Icelandic withdrawal from the Alliance.

11. (SBU) The visit also strengthened the Navy's familiarity with
Icelandic security forces in preparation for future exercises and
contingencies. The Police and Coast Guard took good advantage of
both the real-world force protection requirements of the visit and
the counterterrorism training to develop and demonstrate their own
capabilities. The visit also provided useful experience for the
Defense Department (note: a division of the Foreign Ministry,
Iceland having no Defense Ministry), Coast Guard, Police, and
Ministry of Justice in staff work and coordination (with one another
and with the Embassy and Wasp). End comment.

12. (U) Post offers sincere thanks to USEUCOM, COMNAVEUR, Sixth
Fleet, and "Team Wasp" for their outstanding support of USG goals
vis-a-vis this NATO ally. We would warmly welcome another ship
visit in 2007. Wasp has not cleared this message.

VAN VOORST

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