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Cablegate: Das Pekala Visits Estonia, October 3-4

VZCZCXYZ0000
RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHTL #0922/01 2841350
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 111350Z OCT 06
FM AMEMBASSY TALLINN
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 9111
INFO RUEHHE/AMEMBASSY HELSINKI 5094
RUEHRA/AMEMBASSY RIGA 2785
RUEHVL/AMEMBASSY VILNIUS 6549
RUEHMO/AMEMBASSY MOSCOW 2440

UNCLAS TALLINN 000922

SIPDIS

SIPDIS
SENSITIVE

DEPARTMENT FOR EUR/NB KAYE LEE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: OTRA PREL CVIS IZ AF EN RU
SUBJECT: DAS PEKALA VISITS ESTONIA, OCTOBER 3-4


1. (U) SUMMARY: Estonian government and political
leaders told visiting EUR DAS Pekala October 3-4 that
the GOE is committed to extending the mandate of
Estonia's troops in Iraq but that upcoming parliamentary
elections will complicate the debate in parliament.
They also expressed deep concern over Russia's actions
in Georgia. GOE officials committed to further
increases in the military budget and continued
transparency in the MOD's tender for a short range
missile system and stressed the need for NATO to
continue air policing in the Baltics until 2018. All
sides hailed the strong bilateral relationship and
expressed a desire to move toward visa-free travel for
Estonians. DAS Pekala echoed the themes of his visit
publicly at a press conference that received widespread
media coverage from both Estonian and Russian language
media outlets. END SUMMARY

IRAQ
----

2. (U) DAS Pekala thanked and praised Estonia for its
contributions to the war in Iraq and made clear that its
efforts have not gone unnoticed in Washington. Lauri
Almann, Permanent Undersecretary for the Ministry of
Defense (MOD), told Pekala that the GOE takes these
missions very seriously. The GOE has already approved a
bill extending the mission of Estonian troops in Iraq
for a further 12 months. However, the GOE is waiting to
submit the bill to Parliament until there is a UN
Security Council Resolution (UNSCR), as this is a red
line for the Parliament. Pekala informed Almann and MOD
Deputy Undersecretary Tumm of the UNSCR's likely
timetable. MOD interlocutors and FM Urmas Paet both
said that the earlier the UNSCR's adoption the better,
so Parliament could pass the bill before the winter
recess.

3. (SBU) Barring further fatalities, GOE officials and
politicians agreed that Iraq will not influence the
upcoming parliamentary elections in March 2007.
However, Almann said that "the elections will influence
the Iraq mandate extension vote." In a roundtable with
Parliamentarians, MP Eiki Nestor informed Pekala that
his own party, the Social Democrats, was still deeply
divided by Iraq, and he could not predict how his party
would vote. Juhan Parts, former Prime Minister and Res
Publica MP, stressed that people in Washington should
know that his party's support for the Iraq mission is
not popular with the public. He suggested that
President Bush, during his visit to Estonia, should
thank Estonia for its contributions in both Iraq and
Afghanistan so that the public knows that Estonia's
efforts are not taken for granted and are appreciated by
the global community.

RUSSIA AND THE NEIGHBORHOOD
---------------------------

4. (U) DAS Pekala praised the Estonians for their
active role in promoting democracy and freedom within
the region, especially Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine, and
the western Balkans. He said that Washington deeply
appreciates Estonia's role, especially since it
experienced the same challenges and hurdles inherited
from the Soviet days and has proven that market and
political reforms are not only possible but can be
successful. Estonia's positive role as a model to the
"neighborhood" was the principal theme of Pekala's
meeting with outgoing President Arnold Ruutel, who said
that he intends to use his personal relationship with
other Eastern European, Caucasus and Central Asian
leaders to continue promoting democratic transformation
after he leaves office. Pekala said he thought the idea
was a good one and asked that Ruutel remain in close
contact with Embassy Tallinn on the issue.

5. (SBU) There is a great deal of concern within the
GOE and the Parliament on the recent dispute between
Russia and Georgia. Pekala categorically refuted
accounts that the U.S. coordinated anything in advance
with Georgian President Saakashvili. Pro Patria MP Mart
Laar, a former Prime Minister and current advisor to
Georgian President Saakashvili, called the Russian
behavior "unacceptable." Social Democratic MP Erki
Nestor said that he visited Georgia the previous winter
and was "almost reduced to tears by the hardship caused
by the Russians when they stopped the oil." All the MPs
agreed that Estonia needed to continue and increase its
aid and support to Georgia, especially in light of the
Russian economic and transport embargo on Georgia.
Almann was concerned that the Russians would try to link
this turbulence with Georgia's aspirations for
Intensified Dialogue on NATO membership, which Estonia
continues to support.

6. (SBU) As far as bilateral Estonian-Russian
relations are concerned, FM Paet and Ambassador Wos
expressed mutual disappointment at their separate
meetings with the newly arrived Russian ambassador in
Tallinn. His accusatory rhetoric seems a throwback to a
time of worse relations between the two countries, and
out of step with ongoing Estonian efforts to cooperate
with Russia across the broad range of issues in which
both are engaged.

MILITARY ISSUES
---------------

7. (SBU) Pekala had a frank discussion with Almann and
Tumm on air policing. Almann said that the GOE was
working on a permanent solution in concert with Latvia
and Lithuania. They will request that NATO air policing
continue until 2018, at which time the Baltics will take
on the financial and material responsibility for air
policing. Almann stated that if NATO did not provide
air policing until 2018, there would likely be a direct
effect on Estonia's contribution in Afghanistan and
other NATO operations (as it would have to transfer
funding from operations). He noted that no decisions
had been made on whether Estonia would assume air
policing responsibility on its own or regionally with
the other Baltics in some cost sharing fashion after
2018. FM Paet also touched on this issue, noting that
the Russian airbase at Pskov is only 300km from Estonia,
while the NATO base in Lithuania is 600km away.

8. (U) Pekala praised the MOD and Estonian Defense
Forces (EDF)'s efforts in modernizing and transforming
the military per Estonia's NATO commitments. Almann
said that while there are still challenges ahead, there
is real satisfaction with the accomplishments and
progress Estonia has made. Hardware upgrades to improve
air surveillance, mine countering ships for the navy,
and strategic lift are moving ahead. Due to the booming
economy and the GOE's commitment to reaching the NATO
objective of spending 2% of GDP on defense spending,
Tumm said that the EDF's budget will increase by 33%
this fiscal year alone. This has created a unique
situation for the military: it can raise salaries for
its soldiers (especially the enlisted soldiers and NCOs)
without diverting funds from hardware procurement.

9. (SBU) Pekala thanked Almann and Tumm for the
transparency to date in the MOD's tender process for a
short-range ground based air defense system (SHORAD).
He stressed the importance of a fair process where the
final determinant is based on performance and price.
Pekala reminded Almann and Tumm that the Raytheon bid
represented proven and battle-tested equipment and
service. Almann said that the MOD understood the
importance of this tender and the precedent it will set.
"That is why we are even going above our legal
requirements to be seen as fair and transparent," he
commented. Almann added that he is extremely happy with
all three bids and the process so far.

INVESTMENT AND VISA WAIVER
--------------------------

10. (U) Throughout his visit, and especially during a
final meeting on the subject of attracting more
investment to Estonia, DAS Pekala expressed the clear
recognition in Washington that Estonian membership in
the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) would increase business
travel and other types of exchanges between the two
countries. Though impossible to predict how the U.S.
Congress will handle immigration issues, he said the USG
is committed to progress on this one difficult issue in
what is an otherwise outstanding bilateral relationship.

PRESS CONFERENCE
----------------
11. (U) At the conclusion of his visit, DAS Pekala
held a press conference in which he echoed the themes of
his meetings. In particular, he commented on the
excellent state of the U.S.-Estonian relationship and
praised Estonia for its contribution of military
resources to promote freedom in Iraq and Afghanistan and
its efforts to promote democracy in the region through
its work in Georgia, the Ukraine, and elsewhere. He
also expressed his hope that U.S. investment in Estonia
will increase. DAS Pekala fielded questions regarding
Estonia's status in the VWP and emphasized that the USG
is working closely with the Estonian government to help
Estonia qualify under the terms of the Roadmap.
Coverage of the press conference was extensive, and DAS
Pekala's comments were featured in the Estonian and
Russian-language newspapers as well as Estonia's leading
nightly news program.

12. (U) DAS Pekala has cleared this cable.

WOS

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